HARI SREENIVASAN: A story published a few days ago caught our attention. It described how hospitals buy information about you to determine how likely you are to get sick and what it would cost to treat you. For more we’re joined by one of the co-authors, Shannon Pettypiece of Bloomberg News. So what are they buying and who are they buying it from?
SHANNON PETTYPIECE: Well they are buying the same type of data that retailers have been using for years to target products at you and what we’re talking about here is that information that’s collected by companies called data brokers, which can track every transaction a consumer can make, every purchase they make, with a drug store or a grocery store loyalty card.
They can find out how much your home is worth, what type of car you own. Even things like your interests, whether you like hiking or rock climbing based off of public databases or even your web browsing history. And for years, retailers have used this to send you a coupon or to figure out who might want to subscribe to their certain list or product.
Now hospitals are saying, can we use this data this information to try to predict who’s going to get sick and who is going to end up at the emergency room.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So why are hospitals interested in having this kind of information?
SHANNON PETTYPIECE: Well under Obamacare they have an increased incentive to keep patients healthy because the law changes the way they are paid.
So under the law, hospitals now get penalized if you come back to the emergency room too frequently and if a hospital isn’t meeting certain patient quality and health outcomes and insurers are following the same mold too.
Insurers no longer want to pay for hospitals who are just doing more and more test and procedures over and over again and they want to be paying for quality so hospitals are going to be held accountable if patients are too sick if patients are coming to the emergency room too frequently.
HARI SREENIVASAN: What about all this information as a patient am I opting into this or am I opting out of it and if something is wrong can I correct the assumption that the hospital is going by?
SHANNON PETTYPIECE: Well, so right now hospitals are at the very early stage of using this data but there is very large hospital chain called Carolina’s Health Care System. They own over 900 hospitals, nursing homes, physicians’ offices all throughout North and South Carolina, so they are on the forefront of using this and what they hope to eventually do is to allow patients to opt but only to opt out of some of it if you’re now filling your prescription the hospital feels they want to know and they should be able to know that.
If you don’t want the hospital knowing what your buying form CVS or at the grocery store you can have an option to opt out of that but certain thing they wasn’t to definitely know about you because they’re now being accountable for your health.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And very briefly they cannot use this to discriminate against a preexisting condition even if this information tells them you might have a heart condition
SHANNON PETTYPIECE: Absolutely, there are a lot of things that are illegal for hospitals to do and it’s also bound by the same privacy rules as anything else you would share with your doctor.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright Shannon Pettypiece from Bloomberg News thanks so much.
SHANNON PETTYPIECE: Thank You.