By now we know that every purchase a consumer makes is added to a list detailing one’s spending and life-style habit, which is used to target people for marketing campaigns and other services. But how would you feel if that information was used by your doctors to keep tabs on your health?
A new report from Bloomberg details how hospitals are using our habits such as buying cigarettes or skipping the gym to create patient profiles in order to identify those who are most likely to get sick.
The information, complied by data brokers from public records and credit card transaction, is already being used for marketing purposes by a number of companies. And now, officials in the healthcare field say they plan to apply the data toward something good.
Already, several hospitals around the country are using the information to get to know their patients better and provide preventative care when possible.
Bloomberg reports that the largest hospital chains in the Carolinas – Carolinas HealthCare System – is using the data of 2 million people to identify high-risk patients.
An official with the hospital expects that within the next two years the information could be regularly used by doctors and nurses to suggest interventions before patients become ill.
For example, the system could score the probability of someone having a heart attack by considering factors such as type of foods they buy and if they have a gym membership.
“What we are looking to find are people before they end up in trouble,” the officials tells Bloomberg. “The idea is to use big data and predictive models to think about population health and drill down to the individual levels to find someone running into trouble that we can reach out to and try to help out.”
Similarly, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center uses household and demographic data to try to improve patients’ health by making predictions about which individuals are most likely to use the emergency room or urgent care center.
While the information could prove helpful in providing preventable measures to patients with the risk of developing diseases, consumer advocates and patients say the data could also threaten privacy.
Two of the largest data brokers, Acxiom Corp. and LexisNexis, tell Bloomberg the information is supposed to be used for marketing purposes only, not for use in medical records.
Additionally, advocates say the process could alter the relationships consumers cultivate with their physicians.
Irina Raicu, director of the Internet ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, says the strategy is inclined to see people as simply the sum of data points instead of human beings.
Not to mention the fact that many patients view the new strategy as just plain creepy.
One North Carolina resident with Type 1 Diabetes says she already receives phone calls from her health insurer to try to discuss her daily habits, something she feels does nothing to help her.
“It is one thing to have a number I can call if I have a problem or question, it is another thing to get unsolicited phone calls. I don’t like that,” she says. “I think it is intrusive.”
Data brokers and the information they compile on consumers has been a hot topic lately.
Last month, the Federal Trade Commission urged Congress to require more transparency from data brokers. The FTC reported that most consumers aren’t even aware that their information is being culled and used to target them for services.
Additionally, the information collected by data brokers can be an appealing target for hackers and identify thieves. The report found that this risk is elevated because some data brokers store consumes data indefinitely, even if it’s outdated.