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Christopher Pittman, president of the Hillsborough County Medical Association, said medical offices have a variety of reasons for requiring Social Security numbers.

“Hospitals, as I understand it, are collecting Social Security numbers for patient safety reasons,” he said. The numbers are “a redundant way to uniquely and safely identify the patients.”

Medical facilities also often say they need the numbers in case a patient dies; the number is required for the death certificate. But some security experts say this need can be addressed by providing contact information for a family member who has access to the patient’s Social Security number.

The numbers are also used for collecting payments. “Is medicine a business? Well, certainly,” Pittman said. “Are there other ways to find people who don’t pay their bills? Based on my research, there are.”

“Patients can say, ‘I’m not going to give my Social,’” Pittman said. “An entity can say, ‘Well fine. You need to pay cash … and you can file your own insurance.’”

Pittman suggested a possible compromise: “If a patient is ever uncomfortable giving a SSN to front office staff or to any medical staff member, a simple solution is to provide the SSN directly to the physician,” he said. “Patients trust physicians with the sensitive and personal details of their lives.”

Pittman said this would allow the doctor to enter the number directly into an electronic medical records system, “which is much more secure than any paper record.”