Hospitals Are Using Credit Card Data To Predict People's Health

So, this sounds creepy: Some hospitals are identifying high-risk patients by buying loads of consumer data (i.e. credit card purchases, store loyalty programs, etc.) and plugging it into algorithms so they can step in before the customer gets sick. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, it's currently being used by Carolinas HealthCare System, which is using that type of data to survey the health of its two million members.

How does it work? Take, for example, an asthma patient. A hospital would decide how likely a person would arrive in the emergency room by tracking how often they have refilled their medication, if they're caught buying cigarettes, and if they live in an area with a high pollen county. "The idea is to use Big Data and predictive models to think about population health and drill down to the individual levels," said Michael Dulin, a chief clinical officer for analytics and outcomes research for the medical network, in the Bloomberg Businessweek report.

The purpose of using a system like this is due to Obamacare, since hospital pay is docked if the government sees that patients are coming into the emergency room too frequently. Also there's more of an incentive for medical centers to decrease the number of tests they administer since they're no longer paid on how many tests they perform. A data-heavy system, in which they can decide what is wrong with a person without administering a number of tests, helps solve that dilemma.

Of course, deploying such an intrusive program doesn't come without its critics. "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," Jorjanne Murry explained to Bloomberg Businessweek, who has Type 1 diabetes and adds she ignores phone calls from her insurer.

And the data brokers, or the companies from where the hospitals buying their information from, acted cagey in regards to what information they sell to health-care providers. Understandably; the fact that any of it at all is trading hands is disturbing enough. The details could only get worse.

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