Hospitals criticized for patient data-mining

Hospitals are coming under fire for using private health and financial records to target affluent or privately insured patients, according to Kaiser Health News and USA Today.

Although data mining is common among hospitals, patient advocates and privacy groups are accusing hospitals of using the business practice to secure profits by singling out the best-paying patients.

"When marketing is picking and choosing based on people's financial status, it is inherently discriminating against patients who have every right and need for medical information," Doug Heller, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, told KHN and USA Today.

Using private medical records for marketing, such as promoting the most lucrative services or publicizing new equipment, blurs the line between legal and illegal, according to Deven McGraw, director of the health privacy project at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington.

But hospital officials maintain that data mining allows them to deliver information and services to the patients most likely to need them, noted the article.

For years, hospitals have been mining patient data to benefit the industry and quality of care, using data to uncover fraud and abuse, make informed customer relationship management decisions and identify treatment effectiveness and best practices, according to a 2005 article in the Journal of Healthcare Information Management.

Similarly, with public health and rising healthcare costs in mind, the Supreme Court last summer ruled it's legal to use prescription records for marketing purposes in Vermont (among other states), reported the Burlington Free Press. The original law had banned using physicians' prescription information to help drug makers target their products, although it allowed the information to be used for healthcare research and educational purposes.

To learn more:
- read the KHN/USA Today article
- check out the Journal of Healthcare Information Management article (.pdf)
- read the Burlington Free Press article

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