Could Big Data Become Big Brother?

Diana Manos | Government Health IT | June 24, 2014

Call it Big Data bloodlust: The more health information being generated by a growing contingency of apps, devices, electronic health records, mHealth sensors and wearables, the broader and stronger the desire for that data becomes.  And those are just sources of health information. What about data not traditionally considered part of healthcare that could be used either for or against a patient?

In numerous other industries, buying habits are already widely tracked by many social media sites and used for advertising. Though some have complained this is an intrusion, nothing much has been done to prevent this type of surveillance, so far.  “When you add the non-health information, it starts to make people uncomfortable,” Peter Edelstein, MD, chief medical officer at LexisNexis Risk Solutions told Government Health IT, adding that LexisNexis is approaching the use of data, and non-healthcare data in particular, very carefully, and with legal advice.

Despite the hesitancy by some analytics companies, including LexisNexis, to use social media data, plenty of non-healthcare data is already being used in healthcare today, whether consumers are aware of it or not.  A new report by the World Privacy Forum found that healthcare analytics companies are drawing from “a large roster of raw consumer data." According to report authors Pam Dixon and Robert Gellman, these include: retailer databases, financial sector non-credit information, commercial data brokers, multichannel direct response, online surveys, catalog and phone orders, warranty card registrations, Internet sweepstakes, retailer loyalty cards, lifestyle information gathered from fitness and wellness centers, and non-profit organization member or donor lists...