Warnings that online health platforms are being used as weapons for domestic violence
Leila, Peyton and Bianca all share a similar story.
“My boyfriend was older and told me he was ‘helping’ me by accessing all my online accounts,” Leila says.
“My boyfriend insisted on having my password to manage my health. He was an intimidating guy and there was this undercurrent of violence, so I couldn’t say no. If I said anything to my doctor, he would see it,” Peyton said.
“He went to my laptop while I was sleeping and logged into every online account he could. I didn’t find out until later,” Bianca adds.
They are among ten women who took part in research by Women’s Refuge and the Department of Health that found that online health platforms were being weaponized as a tool for domestic violence. Dr. Natalie Thorburn has seen many examples of this.
“One of them had her allergy listed on her digital notes and that was then used to make her vulnerable by causing her harm,” she says.
“They used the ’email my GP’ feature to communicate with their GP to create a fake story that would stay on their file forever.
“Things like pap smears, for example, often lead to accusations of infidelity and this is used to justify further violence against them.”
With online health platforms readily available to everyone, Dr. Thorburn says doctor-patient confidentiality has quickly become a myth for these women. And medical records have been used to blackmail, discredit, control and abuse victims.
“Anything they can access on their devices, so can their attackers,” says Dr Thorburn.
GPs receive what is known as ‘red flag’ training, but Women’s Refuge wants them and the Department of Health to be aware of this new form of abuse.
“They see the women we see and they see more of them and it’s not identified,” says Dr Ang Jury.
“Therefore, it makes sense for GPs to see it as a probability rather than a rarity as they seem at the moment.”
“It can start with a very simple question: ‘Are you comfortable with what I’m recording, do you have any concerns about someone else accessing your digital health account and Manage my health?’” adds Dr Thorburn.
Because women like Leila, Peyton and Bianca need to be able to report their abuse and get help.
But that won’t work if their attackers can get their hands on those records.