Hospitals spy on patient purchases to spot bad habits

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Americans regularly purchasing unhealthy food or failing to kick their smoking habit could soon find themselves entertaining phone calls and spontaneous check-ins from their doctors.

According to a Bloomberg News report, hospitals in various states are beginning to use consumer information mined through data brokers in order to fill out more complete profiles of their patients. By tabulating these statistics and projecting which individuals are at risk of falling ill the most, medical professionals are hoping to correct potential problems before they get worse.

The process is already underway in at least two major hospital chains, one in Pennsylvania and the other across both North and South Carolina.

At the Carolinas Healthcare System – comprised of more than 900 hospitals, nursing homes, surgical centers, and more – officials are employing information such as where a person shops, the kind of food they buy, and whether or not they smoke to craft profiles for roughly 2 million people.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and its 20-plus facilities, meanwhile, is also using household information to learn more about more than 2 million patients.

“What we are looking to find are people before they end up in trouble,” said Carolinas’ director of research Michael Dulin to 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.”

Large data brokers like LexisNexis and Acxiom are already known to be collecting numerous pieces of information regarding American customers alongside their spending and lifestyle habits. As RT reported previously, a Senate survey found data brokers are gathering up to 75,000 data points on each individual consumer they track within the United States. This information can be simple – like your favorite sports team – but it can also include much more than that, and it can be sold for profit to other companies.

Some legislators, like Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), have proposed bills that would place restrictions on data brokers, but the chances of those passing are slim at this point.

The increased interest from hospitals, meanwhile, comes in the wake of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation. Since the law does not allow insurance companies to deny coverage based on preexisting conditions – and it opts to reward medical institutions for quality of care rather than quantity – hospitals are looking for ways to prevent patients from heading to emergency rooms, which could become costly.

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