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July 16, 2014

Big Brother Is Watching What You Eat and Buy

Summary:

If you buy a donut somewhere, even as a treat for a grandchild, a company may be recording that information and selling it to your insurer.

This is a scary story about massive invasions of privacy in the U.S. This is a travesty in my opinion and one that needs exposure.

According to a story in Bloomberg, doctors and hospitals are watching what you eat, buy, wear and more. Why? To better manage your health, of course. If you buy a donut somewhere, whether for yourself or as a treat for a grandchild, a company like Acxiom or LexisNexis may be recording that buy and selling that information to your insurer but only for “marketing.”

The Carolinas HealthCare System for one…”is placing its data, which include purchases a patient has made using a credit card or store loyalty card, into predictive models that give a risk score to patients.”

“University of Pittsburgh, which operates more than 20 hospitals in Pennsylvania and a health insurance plan, is using demographic and household information to try to improve patients’ health.” Remember the Penn State wellness scandal? Is there something bad in the water in Pennsylvania?

Okay let me get this straight.  If you buy one of the following, your doctor and your health system really should know about it, and it should become a part of your medical record?

  • a dozen donuts
  • a cigar for your grandfather
  • a pack of condoms
  • a burger at McDonalds
  • a half pound of deli salami
  • a steak dinner
  • a milk shake
  • a martini after work
  • a case of diet soda

How about too many/much:

  • pounds of coffee (even if it is for your club)?
  •  packages of hot dogs (they won’t know you’re feeding your kid’s entire soccer team)?
  • popcorn?

Or not enough:

  • fresh fruit?
  • veggies (even if you grow your own)?
  • skim milk?

How about if your teenage son buys a package of condoms? That needs to be in his medical record for your health system/insurer to peruse?

This is nuts…plain nuts, but, alas, the predicable result of the nation’s and employers’ obsession with collecting your personal heath information. I guess if your want privacy you’d best pay cash. But maybe face recognition tools will thwart that, too.

For the record, I can’t think of anything I buy that should be kept secret, but the idea that my health systems can access my purchase is utterly repugnant to me.

Here is the understatement of the week: Jorjanne Murry, an accountant in Charlotte, NC, who has Type 1 diabetes, says: ‘I think it is intrusive.’ “

BTW:  I’m not a privacy nut, but these kinds of data will create an abundance of “false positives” and rabbit trails.  I see no real value in this nonsense.

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About the Author

Tom Emerick is president of Emerick Consulting and cofounder of EdisonHealth and Thera Advisors.  Emerick’s years with Wal-Mart Stores, Burger King, British Petroleum and American Fidelity Assurance have provided him with an excellent blend of experience and contacts.

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