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Doctors Using Big Data to Identify High-Risk Patients

by Fox Van Allen on July 08, 2014

Doctor with tabletBeen eating a lot of fast food lately, buying alcohol and smoking cigarettes? Don’t be surprised if your doctor calls you on it – before your next visit.

Bloomberg Businessweek is reporting that Carolinas HealthCare, a large hospital chain based out of North Carolina, is purchasing data on its 2 million patients through a network of data brokers. The aim of the effort is to learn more about patients’ lifestyles to identify those at risk of illness before they get sick.

Increased credit card payments at liquor stores could indicate you’re suffering from depression, for example. If you buy nothing but junk food at the supermarket, your doctor will know you’re at higher risk of diabetes or high blood pressure. Data is pulled from credit card purchases, store loyalty cards and other publicly available sources used by marketers.

"The idea is to use Big Data and predictive models to think about population health and drill down to the individual levels," says Michael Dulin, chief clinical officer for analytics and outcomes research at Carolinas HealthCare.

Naturally, there are plenty of privacy advocates concerned about the implications of health care providers spying on their patients. And some patients don’t like the effort either on account of the unsolicited phone calls to discuss personal daily habits. Still, doctors say there’s a real benefit to knowing more about patients’ purchases – including the little guilty pleasures we’re loath to discuss.

"The data is already used to market to people to get them to do things that might not always be in the best interest of the consumer," Dulin told Bloomberg. "We are looking to apply this for something good."

You can read more about the Carolinas HealthCare initiative in Bloomberg Businessweek.

[Doctor using tablet via Shutterstock]


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