San Francisco Doctor Accepts Bitcoin to Protect Patient Privacy

Kadhim Shubber
Dec 9, 2013 at 10:03 UTC
Updated Dec 9, 2013 at 10:11 UTC

A doctor and former programmer is using bitcoin’s revolutionary payment system as a new way to protect his patients’ privacy.

Earlier this year, Dr Paul Abramson’s private practice, My Doctor Medical Group in San Francisco, began allowing patients to pay for their care with bitcoin.

The decision has meant that people who want to keep their healthcare private can hide their medical payments from their bank.

“Some patients wish to maintain extreme privacy regarding their medical care, and have identified that payment in bitcoin serves that end better than other methods,” Abramson told CoinDesk.

“We try to accommodate our patients’ requests regarding their privacy as long as they are consistent with our own compliance with strict ethical and legal standards.”

A vocal advocate for privacy, Abramson says he first became aware of bitcoin in 2012. However, he admits his own personal use of the currency is “limited” and “mostly to buy cupcakes at the Cups & Cakes Bakery in San Francisco”.

Privacy-minded patients

“We started accepting bitcoin in early 2013. It was my idea, based on my interest in privacy issues and alternative currencies, and discussions with some of my privacy-minded patients,” he said.

On the My Doctor website, these patients are named as the “most discriminating clientele”.

The site goes on to explain: “One important part of the confidentiality puzzle is payment. Using a credit or debit card to pay for [medical] services exposes your private information to the financial system and can’t be easily controlled.”

Abramson applies a similarly high standard of privacy to his own practice. He refused to say what payment processor his practice uses, though he admited they moved from a direct wallet approach “for logistical reasons”.

Significant interest

He is similarly tight-lipped about the volume of bitcoin trade his practice has done, except to say:

“We’ve had significant interest in our acceptance of bitcoin, but a smaller number of people who have actually had bitcoins with which to pay.”

Bitcoin has recently been making a few tentative inroads into the healthcare sector.

This Polish dentist offers a 10% discount to people who pay for treatment with bitcoi, while this Lithuanian orthopaedic surgery is waiting for its first bitcoin-paying patient after deciding to accept the currency in November.

Private sector

Given that the majority of health services in Western countries are free at the point of use, it’s unsurprising that clinics accepting bitcoin payments are in the parts of the health sector where patients pay directly on a treatment-by-treatment basis.

Take dentistry or plastic surgery for example, in November this cosmetic surgery clinic in Florida became the first of its kind to accept bitcoin, while this Argentinian dentist also accepts bitcoin payments.

Dr Abramson is the first to make the argument for using bitcoin in the healthcare arena, because of the privacy implications of being able to make anonymous payments.

In contrast, the clinics above all cited the “avoid transaction fees” argument.

It has been said time and time again that bitcoin isn’t 100% anonymous, as a person’s transactions can be connected to their real-world identity when they convert bitcoin into a traditional currency, or vice-versa.

But for keeping information about your health between you, your doctor and nobody else, the very good anonymity granted by bitcoin could be very useful indeed.

Pressmaster Image via Shutterstock

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