Data Mining to Recruit Sick People

Companies Use Information From Data Brokers, Pharmacies, Social Networks

Some health-care companies are pulling back the curtain on medical privacy without ever accessing personal medical records, by probing readily available information from data brokers, pharmacies and social networks that offer indirect clues to an individual’s health.

Companies specializing in patient recruitment for clinical trials use hundreds of data points—from age and race to shopping habits—to identify the sick and target them with telemarketing calls and direct-mail pitches to participate in research.

“I think patients would be shocked to find out how little privacy protection they have outside of traditional health care,” says Nicolas P. Terry, professor and co-director at the Center for Law and Health at Indiana University’s law school. He adds, “Big Data essentially can operate in a HIPAA-free zone.”

FTC Commissioner Julie Brill says she is worried that the use of nonprotected consumer data can be used to deny employment or inadvertently reveal illnesses that people want kept secret. “As Big Data algorithms become more accurate and powerful, consumers need to know a lot more about the ways in which their data is used,” Ms. Brill says.

To view the full article, please visit: Data Mining to Recruit Sick People (article published December 17, 2013)