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Hospitals Spy on Your Purchases to Spot Bad Habits

You may get a call from your doctor if you’ve let your gym membership lapse, make a habit of picking up candy bars at the check-out counter or begin shopping at plus-sized stores...
July 8, 2014

You may get a call from your doctor if you’ve let your gym membership lapse, make a habit of picking up candy bars at the check-out counter or begin shopping at plus-sized stores.

Some hospitals are sweeping aside considerations about privacy as they increasingly mind the business of patients, often without asking them. They are starting to use detailed consumer data to create profiles on current and potential patients to identify those most likely to get sick, so the hospitals can intervene before they do. Information compiled by data brokers from public records and credit card transactions can reveal where a person shops, the food they buy and whether they smoke. Hospitals say they are only trying to help patients be healthy. Patients and their advocates aren’t so sure. They say they’re concerned that big data’s expansion into medical care will hurt the doctor-patient relationship and threaten privacy.

Patient advocates warn about crossing the “creepiness line.” The strategy “is very paternalistic toward individuals, inclined to see human beings as simply the sum of data points about them,” said Irina Raicu, director of the Internet ethics program at Santa Clara University. Other serious ethical dilemmas include fears that hospitals could use big data about potential patients to evade sicker ones, denying care in an effort to maximize their profits.

Hospitals Spy on Your Purchases to Spot Bad Habits (Bloomberg Service 6/27/14)

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