On Dave Winer's Scripting News is a casual reference to a big problem. I'm not sure if Dave apprciates the significance of the event. Dave witnessed a celebrity purchase medications, and then the clerk confirmed the identity of this celebrity. I don't know which pharmacy Dave was in, but most pharmacies have clear privacy guidelines. If they don't now, they certainly will after implementation of the federal HIPPAA Privacy regulation. Most states also have laws protecting patient confidentiality.
Some may argue that I'm making a big deal out of nothing. I'm not. As healthcare providers, we make a clear commitment to our patients that we maintain the confidentiality of all of their medical information, no matter how trivial it may seem. While one may say "oh .. it's just the breathing medicine that we know about" … or "who cares if anyone knows about grandpa's arthritis pills" … the trouble is that there is no clear way to draw any line between what's OK to talk about .. and what's not. Would we reveal a medication that being prescribed to treat a sexually transmitted disease? By revealing only the name of a medication, we reveal a great deal about a patient's private medical history. This is why the laws in most states, and the HIPAA privacy regs are not tolerant of "minor" lapses in priacy such as the one Dave describes. On the other hand (!) ..pharmacy employees are not seen as healthare providers in all states (though the ARE in California) and there have been legal decisions in some states that suggest that we should not expect our pharmacists to keep our medications to themselves. HIPAA, of course will change that.