"The joys of unintended consequences never end. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Actrequired hospitals to get paid based on how much they improved their patients' health rather than on how many tests and procedures were completed. The intent was to improve patient care.
But some data brokers saw dollar signs in those changes and have started mining patients' payment card data, public records and loyalty programs and using that to create risk profiles, which they are then selling to hospitals and insurance companies. For asthma, they look at pollen counts associated with the current residence as well as cigarette purchases, plus pharmacy records indicating whether prescriptions are being refilled regularly and on time, suggesting compliance, according to a Business Week report.
Data analytics is generally a wonderful thing, but I'm not seeing how this program could really deliver much of a benefit to anyone involved, other than the data brokers who sell it."
Although there are absolutely privacy issues raised, there are some initial limits. However, it's unclear how long those limits will remain in place. For example, the individual information is analyzed and massaged by the data broker, who turns it into a series of risk numbers, but the hospital isn't told the purchase/public record facts that went into those crunched numbers. In other words, the hospital won't be told that a gym membership lapsed or that 20 pizzas are being ordered a week, but will solely see that weight gain risk increased.
The biggest problem with such data collection is simply that the analysis could be highly inaccurate, mostly because a purchase made is not necessarily for the patient to personally use.
"It's important to remember that credit card and customer loyalty program data are not soundly indicative nor solely attributable to an individual's behavior. For one thing, individuals may be purchasing items for family members or even an elderly or disabled neighbor," said Pam Baker, a business data analyst who has a new book out on the topic: Data Divination: Big Data Strategies.
Michael Dulin, chief clinical officer for analytics and outcomes research at Carolinas HealthCare, one of the health groups that is purchasing this kind of data, is quoted in the BusinessWeek piece, arguing that "information on consumer spending can provide a more complete picture than the glimpse doctors get during an office visit or through lab results." That's certainly true, but even if the data were accurate -- which is far from a given -- how much good is likely to come from it?
George Zachariah, a consultant at Dynamics Research Corporation in Andover, Mass., explains the top five ways hospital systems can better use health analytics in order to get the most out of the information.
1. Use analytics to help cut down on administrative costs.