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    Businessweek: Hospitals Are Mining Patients’ Credit Card Data to Predict Who Will Get Sick

    Businessweek reports on a story about data mining that could affect the privacy of individuals’ medical information:

    Carolinas HealthCare, which runs more than 900 care centers, including hospitals, nursing homes, doctors’ offices, and surgical centers, has begun plugging consumer data on 2 million people into algorithms designed to identify high-risk patients so that doctors can intervene before they get sick. The company purchases the data from brokers who cull public records, store loyalty program transactions, and credit card purchases. [Carolinas operates the largest group of medical centers in North and South Carolina.]

    Information on consumer spending can provide a more complete picture than the glimpse doctors get during an office visit or through lab results, says Michael Dulin, chief clinical officer for analytics and outcomes research at Carolinas HealthCare. The Charlotte-based hospital chain is placing its data into predictive models that give risk scores to patients. Within two years, Dulin plans to regularly distribute those scores to doctors and nurses who can then reach out to high-risk patients and suggest changes before they fall ill. […]

    The system may also look at the probability of someone having a heart attack by considering factors such as the type of foods she buys and if she has a gym membership. “The idea is to use Big Data and predictive models to think about population health and drill down to the individual levels,” he says.

    While Carolinas HealthCare can share patients’ risk assessments with their doctors under the hospital’s contract with its data provider, the health-care chain isn’t allowed to disclose details, such as specific transactions by an individual, says Dulin, who declined to name the data provider.

    If the early steps are successful, though, Dulin says he’d like to renegotiate to get the data provider to share more specific details with the company’s doctors on their patients’ spending habits. […]

    Many patients and their advocates are voicing concerns that Big Data’s expansion into medical care will threaten privacy.

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