Nearly every time you fill out a prescription, your pharmacy sells details of the transaction to outside companies which compile and analyze the information to resell to others. The data includes age and gender of the patient, the name, address and contact details of their doctor, and details about the prescription.
A 60-year-old company little known by the public, IMS Health, is leading the way in gathering this data. They say they have assembled “85% of the world’s prescriptions by sales revenue and approximately 400 million comprehensive, longitudinal, anonymous patient records.”
IMS Health sells data and reports to all the top 100 worldwide global pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, as well as consulting firms, advertising agencies, government bodies and financial firms. In a January 2nd filing to the Security and Exchange Commission announcing an upcoming IPO, IMS said it processes data from more 45 billion healthcare transactions annually (more than six for each human on earth on average) and collects information from more than 780,000 different streams of data worldwide.
Deborah Peel, a Freudian psychoanalyst who founded Patient Privacy Rights in Austin, Texas, has long been concerned about corporate gathering of medical records.
“I’ve spent 35 years or more listening to how people have been harmed because their records went somewhere they didn’t expect,” she says. “It got to employers who either fired them or demoted them or used the information to destroy their reputation.”
“It’s just not right. I saw massive discrimination in the paper age. Exponential isn’t even a big enough word for how far and how much the data is going to be used in the information age,” she continued. “If personal health data ‘belongs’ to anyone, surely it belongs to the individual, not to any corporation that handles, stores, or transmits that information.”
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