Bloomberg reports that hospital systems in both North and South Carolina as well as Pennsylvania have already begun tracking people's food-purchasing habits by spying on them through public records and credit card transactions. Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS), which operates some 900 care centers throughout the Carolinas, has teamed up with a data-mining company to compile and track this information for the later purpose of calling "high-risk" folks and urging them to make a change.
"What we are looking to find are people before they end up in trouble," stated Michael Dulin, chief clinical officer for analytics and outcomes at CHS, to Bloomberg. "The idea is to use big data and predictive models to think about population health and drill down to the individual levels to find someone running into trouble that we can reach out to and try to help out."
Though seemingly benevolent, the plan is overshadowed by serious privacy concerns that many say violate the established terms of the patient-doctor relationship. Simply plugging an individual's purchasing data into a metric and coming up with a risk assessment figure is also an entirely shortsighted way of gauging personal health, not to mention the fact that sharing this information without consent violates the public trust.
The strategy "is very paternalistic toward individuals, inclined to see human beings as simply the sum of data points about them," stated Irina Raicu, director of the Internet ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, in a telephone interview with Bloomberg.
Feds to track individual behavior under guise of 'preventive healthcare'But this approach aligns with the overall goals of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known more accurately as Obamacare, which relies upon such data to come up with patient risk assessments. With the federal government now holding the reins of patient care, minimizing use of the system is a top priority that apparently requires managing the activities and eating habits of the general population in the same way that a farmer might manage his cowherd.
"The traditional rating and underwriting has gone away with health-care reform," admitted Robert Booz, an analyst at Gartner Inc., a technology research and consulting firm, as quoted by Bloomberg. "What they are trying to do is proactive care management where we know you are a patient at risk for diabetes so even before the symptoms show up we are going to try to intervene."
An example used in media reports is an asthma sufferer who is caught purchasing cigarettes along with her groceries. This individual would be further monitored to see if she is keeping up to date with her asthma medications; if not, she might be approached by a local hospital system or doctor who would advise her to follow official protocol, with the added bonus of this information providing a further "in" for the government to track members of the public.
"Just the notion [that] any US hospital institution is interested let alone willing to provide preventive care is bull," wrote one RT.com commenter about this latest government conspiracy. "US healthcare has eroded to despotism marketing people for profit with claims of healthcare merely an excuse to shoehorn their way into your business."
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