Savage Love Letter of the Day: Facebook Stalking Pharmacist Questions His Ethics


Yeah...I work in heathcare this guy is likely violating his company's patient confidentiality policies and is likely close to a HIPAA violation. He is using confidential patient information to digitally stalk customers. That in and of itself is ethically questionable. The fact that he is considering approaching these guys takes that outside of the grey area and is completely out of line.

It's no different than a doctor or nurse trying to pick-up a patient they cared for in their clinic or hospital.

This guy is a total creeper.
I'd be pretty weirded out if my pharmacist (or doctor, or therapist, or toll-booth operator etc.) found me online.
As @1&2 pointed out the medical nature of LW’s profession adds an extra privacy layer that should not be violated.
As a grocery cashier you may be somewhat ok with saying something like, “Ooh, I also love that beer and the neighborhood ale house has it on tap. I’m there every Saturday.”
“I’ve noticed you’re getting Viagra, but just so you know Verdanafil is just as good AND also cheaper,” may not fly.

I also second the in-person approach which is not likely to come across as potentially creepy as an out of nowhere facebook request.
PILL doesn't need to just worry about HIPAA, there are state privacy laws that could also come into play (since HIPAA does not preempt stricter state law), as well as corporate privacy polices that are applicable.

For example, the privacy policy of one large chain reads in part as follows:
"Our pharmacy staff is required to protect the confidentiality of your PHI and will disclose your PHI to a person other than you or your personal representative only when permitted under federal or state law. This protection extends to any PHI that is oral, written, or electronic, such as prescriptions transmitted by facsimile, modem, or other electronic device . . . In some circumstances, as described in this Notice, the law permits us to use and disclose your PHI without your express permission. In all other circumstances, we will obtain your written authorization before we use or disclose your PHI."

Likewise, PILL is probably going be in violation of his company's policy.

TL;DR: PILL, your company's customer database is not OkCupid.
Is it a violation to stalk strangers like this? Hell yes! If not of HIPAA, than of ethics and certainly of good judgment.

Dude. You would creep these guys out bigly. Don't do it.
If you have to ask if it's okay, assume it's not okay.

Let these men have their privacy. Leave them alone. Block them on Facebook so that you don't see them, then go forth and stalk no more.
PILL is lonely. At least he's interested in three guys, not one guy ... unless he's really only interested in one and the others are a cover. Personally I don't see too heinous an ethics violation, but it has to be that, formally. He's probably too bashful to 'run into' these people in public; the digital may seem more of a buffer against rejection. Still, if this isn't just an obsession, it's what he should do.
It wouldn't be any less creepy coming from any other service industry worker. It might be OK IF one of the guys flirted with the LW and, with some gooey expression, said "call me sometime, big boy". Otherwise, no... just no.
@7: "PILL is lonely. At least he's interested in three guys, not one guy ... unless he's really only interested in one and the others are a cover"

I wouldn't be surprised if it was more than three and he was holding back.

Violating the privacy of more than one person is not any less creepy or a legal/ethical violation.
Agree with all of the above. Never contact use information gained from knowing someone in a professional context to contact them in a personal context without consent. This seems like a no brainer whether or not you are violating any rules or laws. Especially if you work in a field where you are handling sensitive information. But that is just basic courtesy even if it's something as casual as a barista/customer relationship.
I don't get the "is lonely" response to stalking behavior, abusing a position of power for this stuff is gross, not RomCom meet cute material.
I mean a pharmacist is someone you trust with your life, and I would not trust that individual to make valid, ethical decisions beyond his dating life either.
What everyone said. Not allowed to contact them and actually not allowed to look them up on facebook.
Even if I have a patient regaling me about the book they wrote or the band they played in (happens), I must ask their permission before looking them up online. I know of healthcare providers who have been sanctioned for doing this (searching patients online without permission).
Very very VERY.BAD.IDEA., LW!!! A pharmacist is like a doctor, medical ethics apply here. There are lots of hot gay men in the world, surely you don't need to risk your professional reputation and career just to get a date! And ABSOLUTELY.NO. FB.FRIEND.REQUEST. That's super creepy!
You're supposed to be, not perfect, but "in good working order" to pursue a relationship. If you're too shy / lack enough confidence to chat up a gay guy you met first in public, then you need to work on that FIRST. Don't use the power of your inside knowledge about these guy(s) plus whatever else you learn as you stalk them to boost your ego enough to approach them.
@1 in spades yes
Number 1, absolutely absolute rule of flirting with clients in service jobs: you only do it with those who flirted first (if you're interested, that is). You leave all the other ones alone.
Title and Dan says LW is a pharmacist but the LW never said this, just said he works in a pharmacy. Maybe he's an hourly sales clerk?
Unlike, well, everyone else here, I'm not ready to pile onto PILL just yet.
First, he said that he works for a pharmacy chain. He didn't say he was a pharmacist or any other form of healthcare professional.
Secondly, is the "health information" we're wringing our hands over their names? Sheesh!
Regardless of whatever he might know, there's no indication that PILL has disclosed any confidential information to anyone. Nor does it seem like a power imbalance is being exploited here.
As it stands, there's plausible deniability here. Just because he became acquainted with some people who were customers at his previous workplace doesn't mean sending a friend request is betraying anyone or violating anything.
Don't be creepy. A friend request is creepy, and has zero plausible deniability. But I don't think "just happening to bump into" the guy is necessarily bad, *if* he can pull off the deniability.

That said, it's unavoidably running some risk of blowing that, meaning you're putting risk of harm on this guy, for your own (minor) benefit. Bottom line, not ethical. I've done worse in my life. But I shouldn't have.
I have my ob/gyn on my linkedin. When you use your cellphone or gmail even just once it often automatically shows that person as a potential connection. In retrospect...yea, I guess it is kinda weird? But I really need a job so I ignored common social rules thinking if one of her connections leads to a good job then it's worth it- this college degree ain't paying for itself! When my ob/gyn came up on my profile as a potential friend, I clicked "add" and I wasn't going to be mad if she ignored the request. lol. I didn't stalk anyone to get more connections- that shit autopopulates and becomes click-bait.
Depending on the job, the power dynamics can go either way. With a pharmacist, he is in a position of power, and thus should only respond to friend requests/ flirting/ etc, not initiate. But with a sales clerk, who is trapped at a register in full view of the public and in a low-power job, the customer is the one who shouldn't hit on the clerk.
@9. Undead. The presumption is that there's a significant difference between finding out about someone in a public context--on the starting line of a 10k--and in a circumscribed, professional context--like where PILL as a pharmacist knows his crushes have piles or high blood pressure. I'm not sure that emotionally the difference is felt as such. We don't cease to be integral human beings in serving someone.

I absolutely agree with the advice not to hit up these guys on social media.

PILL didn't seem to me to be creepily fantasising about the lives of the pharmacy's clients--'he's on this medication and that medication; he has trouble sleeping, does he have problems in his marriage?' I had more the sense that it was easier for him to deal with guys he liked in very set contexts and online. But someone like this (a digital native in a way we're--probably--not) needs to launch himself onto the sea of all-inclusive socializing, hitting-on, dating.
@18: Dan also tends to out potentially incriminating info.

Also @19: He's a medical professional (and covered by HIPAA!) using patient records for wildly unethical purposes.

@23: "We don't cease to be integral human beings in serving someone"

The difference comes from using private personal data and records and abusing that versus flirting IRL. I don't care about the latter, obviously.

Using name and email from medical records to stalk is what takes this to a weird, unhealthy place.
The guy is specifically looking at medical records in the pharmacy, he is not just a cashier working for a chain (they would not have access to those files), he has the privileges and reputation required to work back behind those lines.
One time, a man walked up to me at a local music festival and said my name and address. I thought I was going to have a heart attack, like "how do you know me?!"

Turns out he was my mail carrier. It was still creepy as fuck.
I kinda want to skip over the part where hitting on people you met through work is bad form, and focus on the part where hitting on some random person through FB is also bad form. Even if PILL got these names through some other avenue, sending a friend request to someone who doesn't know you is unlikely to go over well. Never mind making a pass at them.
Saxfanatic @19
The LW called these three guys "patients", not "customers". That lends weight to the idea that he is a pharmacist. Also, why would a cashier or clerk worry about HIPAA?
@27: Yes.
There's this really adorable guy I've been following around my neighborhood. I just want to cut his cute little body up and keep it in my freezer so I can savor eating up every little bit. What is the protocol here?
If someone who had seen my private medical information - name, home address, prescriptions - started trying to hit on me outside of work (in person or online, doesn't matter), I would call the fucking police and get a restraining order immediately. Even in the most innocent case, they've already proven themselves to be terrible at basic boundary management.
Harriet @ 23 - What kind of medication for piles needs a prescription? I've been buying it over the counter for 30 years.
This is, IMO, a violation. Presently harmless, but could you imagine if you are dating someone only to find out they were facebook stalking you BEFORE YOU EVEN MET? I'm the type of person that won't even looked at a linked instagram on a tinder profile.
First comment here, want to see if this is working
Hi All, glad to finally sign up here. Sorry about my inane comment above, I thought I could throw out a "testing, testing" comment and then delete it, but I don't see the delete button. And I'm a little lazy.

Agree to all of the above that FB friending any of the guys is just creepy and a big fat no. But I'll go a step further and contend that if someone just "ran into" me at a bar and then I found out they had some details about my through FB which they stalked b/c they were privy to my private information, I would be still be thoroughly creeped out.
THAT being said...the LW already innocently saw one of the dudes at a bar. If he hung around that same bar hoping to run into said dude, that's not creepy is it? And who knows, maybe whilst hanging out at that bar, LW might meet someone else who privacy he didn't violate and strike up a conversation.

TL/DR: Don't internet stalk someone hoping for a relationship. Go out in public and talk to someone. Sheesh. Kids these days.

Dating isn't for you.
@35: "THAT being said...the LW already innocently saw one of the dudes at a bar. If he hung around that same bar hoping to run into said dude, that's not creepy is it?"

Nope! None of that required him delve into medical records.

You'd best believe if he continued talking to the bar guy that he'd scan the rest of his file history as well.
@9 undead ayn rand: "Violating the privacy of more than one person is not any less creepy or a legal/ethical violation."

No fucking duh. Like, how is that a mitigating factor? Is this some kind of "Kill one man, and you are a murderer; kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror; kill them all, and you are a god," kinda shit?

Anyways, yeah, joining everyone else to say "using your access to confidential medical info as a dating aid is very definitely Not Okay." Maybe make small talk with them when they show up and see if they want to talk more, but nothing else!
@32. Ricardo. With the 'piles', I meant something personally embarrassing in a minor way. Maybe the client picks up non-prescription stuff together with prescription medicine (I've lived in Britain and France, where restrictions on what you can get over the counter are tighter).

To some extent, I feel people's recoiling at the idea of PILL contacting customers derives from a distaste at the thought of a human being having any emotional involvement with their low-level ailments and maladjustments. They'd prefer to be served by a bot backed up by a fleet of drones (and no doubt some human pickers and sorters working behind closed doors). Maybe soon some people will prefer having their hair cut by a bot, or their children taught and tested on their arithmetic by AI programs. The class of things reserved for human-human interactions will shrink; maybe even sex, counseling and emotional support / caregiving won't be in it.
@39: "To some extent, I feel people's recoiling at the idea of PILL contacting customers derives from a distaste at the thought of a human being having any emotional involvement with their low-level ailments and maladjustments"


How about not cheering on the repeat violating of ethical standards and stalkery behavior?

I don't get how in any world this creeping is okay and why people are making such excuses.
I want humans helping me as professionals. I don't want them abusing my trust in them and with your post apocalyptic fantasy you appear to have more empathy for creeps than the medical patients they are tasked to help and anyone else so stalked.
Not only is it unethical for a health professional to use a patient's identifying information to look them up in social media but for some (like doctors, nurse practitioners, therapists) it's a violation of HIPAA to acknowledge a patient in public without their permission/them saying hi first. So don't go hit up this hot guy in public either!
There's no way he can friend request them without it seeming suspicious at best. Even if he claimed they appeared as "someone you may know," which assumes they have friends in common, it still will come off as suspicious. Best you can do is hang out at that same bar, or hang out with friends you have in common in hopes of an out-of-work introduction. But don't initiate ANYTHING. There's a better chance this way that you'll end up meeting someone else at that bar or through those friends and everything will be ok.

(P.S. I've never approached anyone I've Facebook stalked, but on more than one occasion they approached me because of mutual friends.)
I agree that a friend request is over the line. But "accidentally" running into a guy in a bar, who he already knows and thinks is cute--what's wrong with that?

Lots of people look their crush up on Facebook or Google before they ask them out. It's the modern equivalent of asking your friends about them. I don't think you should do it obsessively, or bring it up later ("Oh yeah, I saw on the internet that you're into x..."), but I also don't think it's a huge deal. Interest (and even "Facebook stalking") is not the same as actual stalking. (And if the idea creeps you out so much, make your Facebook page private. Easy.)

I dunno. Maybe it's as evil as you all seem to think. But we all spend a lot of our time at work (most of it, for most of us), and automatically eliminating all the people you meet that way from your dating pool seems pretty harsh and limiting.
@40. Undead. Where does curiosity end and creeping start? Let's say I had a dermological ailment that requires a prescription medicine. The strength or frequency of the medication varies with whether the problem's protracted or clearing up. A sales clerk sees that I seem to be on the mend and is pleased for me. I'm pleased that he's pleased. I'm living in a world of people; acquaintances near and far; friends, strangers and people in between. Some degree of uncontrollable exposure of myself to others' curiosity, misconstructions, even fantasies is part of living in a shared world.

In the gym today I'm sure many men noted the quite uncontrollable, unbiddable wobble of my ass. Some may have been irritated that someone so un-toned was using their facility. Some would have been grossed out by it ... and some may even have liked it!

Of course the advice is right and it would cross a line for PILL to FB his crushes.