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Bad habits, poor health: You are what you ... purchase?

Doctors will soon be able to use consumer data to determine if you are a high/low health risk.
Doctors will soon be able to use consumer data to determine if you are a high/low health risk.
Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images

Are you the patient who doesn’t tell your doctor everything when you are in for a visit? Well, soon you won’t be able to hide some bad habits from your doctor. According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek on Thursday, July 3, your doctor may be asking you about more than you have disclosed to them.

Carolinas HealthCare System, which runs 900 health care facilities in North and South Carolina will be using consumer data to rate its patients. Based on the data they receive, doctors will be able to see if you are high or low risk for getting sick.

Although the data broker being used in this case was not disclosed, data will be pulled from such things as store loyalty programs, credit card purchases, and public records. The consumer data on 2 million people will then be put into algorithms. The data is placed in a predictive model which will give each patient a score. Those who are higher risk will receive a call from their doctor thus attempting to intervene, with a suggestion for change, before the patients gets sick.

“The data is already used to market to people to get them to do things that might not always be in the best interest of the consumer,” said Michael Dulin, chief clinical officer for analytics and outcomes research at Carolinas HealthCare. “We are looking to apply this for something good.”

An example Dulin gave BusinessWeek is that of a person who suffers from asthma. Through the patient’s asthma medication refill history, purchase of cigarettes and the pollen count in the area in which he lives they can paint a picture as to whether or not he will be in the emergency room.

What will be shared with your doctor? Dulin said that the risk assessment will be shared with doctors, but at this time specific purchase information will not. Although, if this goes well they would like to get more detailed information on the given data; for instance, individual spending habits.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek discussion highlights why it could be important for the hospital to have said information. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, ‘Obamacare’, hospitals are getting paid by quality metrics, keeping their patients healthy, and not through how many tests and procedures are being done. Hospitals that have patients readmitted within a month time are being fined; while those with better quality outcomes are being rewarded.

Carolinas HealthCare System isn’t the only ones to implement a system such as this. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who operate health facilities and health insurance plan, uses more general information, demographic, and household data, to help predict those who are more likely to use an emergency room and/or and urgent care site.

This discussion has sparked concern from patient advocacy groups specifically on privacy issues. Jorjanne Murry, who suffers from type one diabetes, is not fond of this change. "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," Murry said to BusinessWeek. "I think it is intrusive."

The good news. If you do not want to be apart of this, you will be able to opt out.

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