Guess What's for Sale Now? Your Medical Records

OK.  So we're used to companies we've bought from online selling what we buy, how much we spent and whether we return for more.  But guess what else now has a price on it?  Your medical data.

With all the hoopla over HIPAA (you know, the mountain of forms you have to fill out and sign at the doctor's office after the new healthcare law), you'd think it'd be illegal. But it's not.

According to a story at smartplanet.com,  "States ranging from Washington to New York are selling compiled records that can be used to link individuals to medical conditions. As records become digitized and hacking becomes more sophisticated, the risk to patient privacy rises."

In Washington state alone, a database of 650,000 patients and their hospitalizations now are for sale to researchers, companies and the general public.  That means if you hurt your knee and must be hospitalized, you're likely to hear from knee and hip replacement device makers, home repair outfits that can retrofit your bathroom, even shoe companies.  

I remember starting to receive more baby direct mail pieces when my son turned 18 months.  Guess the diaper, clothing and furniture companies must have thought it was time for a new one. Kid, that is.

But back to medical data.  Supposedly, it's for a good cause (most of it), allowing researchers access to data they could not otherwise obtain in their search for cures and treatments.

Here's what Peter Jaret of The New York Times writes about its value. "The resulting databases of clinical information are gold mines for medical research."

He goes on to say that the monitoring and analysis of electronic medical records, some scientists say, "have the potential to make every patient a participant in a vast, ongoing clinical trial, pinpointing treatments and side effects that would be hard to discern from anecdotal case reports or expensive clinical trials."

But the risk to our privacy is great.

Charlie Osburne quotes a Bloomberg story about a man injured in a motorcycle accident to make its point. "The publication notes: 'because of state exemption from federal regulations governing discharge information, (the patient) could be identified and his medical background exposed using only publicly available information.'”

The people doing the searching say they have very altruistic reasons for doing it. "At the intersection of medicine and computer science, researchers look for clinically useful correlations amid mountains of information," that can add to their work, Larry Hardesty at MIT News reports.

 And here's why it's only going to get worse.  Osburne writes that the medical-data industry is expected to be a $10 billion business by 2020.




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