Health Systems Getting “Creative” with Big Data

We need to digitize health data to improve outcomes.

We need to get the data from EMRs into the hands of researchers in order to tackle obstinate diseases.

We have heard all of these before – altruism rules, perhaps, when we think about a potential cure for cancer.  “Sure, digitize my health data, and use it for research.  I hope it helps!”

But what about your Visa and Master Card bills?  What about your Kroger or Safeway loyalty program records?  What about your CVS or Walgreens reward card details?  Well, the “data brokers” are brokering data, and the health care systems want a piece of the action.  You better believe that since we have signed away our rights to the data behind our spending habits for the rewards these programs provide (“I have  5,000 CVS points for all of my purchases, and now I can get a free gallon of milk!”), “our data” will be sold to the highest bidder.

And really, this becomes our health data.

Bloomberg did some great reporting on Carolinas Healthcare System’s move to stay ahead of the new mandates to prevent readmission rates by linking spending data from the big data brokers to their patient population.  Asthma diagnosis and purchasing cigarettes, you might be getting a call to schedule an office visit.  Diabetes and too many candy bars, expect the phone to ring.

Remember, this is all being done in the name of health outcomes, and in order to stay ahead of the mandates of the Affordable Care Act (whose healthcare costs are going down lately, by the way?).  Deb Peele and PPR are doing their best to get the word out regarding the huge issue of patient privacy, but it’s going to take a groundswell of people pushing back and saying, “This isn’t right.” (or even, “This is just creepy.”).

I live in North Carolina, and I love my state.  I also hope that technology encourages better health outcomes.  I am, however, rather unsettled by this news, and I hope that there is some push-back against practices like this.

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