Health Care’s data mining of Americans’ health, lifestyle information

Data Mining our health care choices
Data Mining our health care choices

ORLANDO, Fla., June 26, 2014 — Data mining of individual health care information could benefit Americans and decrease healthcare costs.

It could be the response to the question “Why doesn’t someone help them” when they see morbidly obese adults and children.

It could identify individuals who are living unhealthy lifestyles, and determine what kind of lifestyle leads to repeat hospital by looking at buying habits and healthcare use.

Or it could be the Orwellian nightmare of an overreaching government that will force us to attend fat camps while monitoring our buying habits, dictating whether we can buy chocolate bars and ice cream versus fresh fruits and vegetables.

A North Carolina hospital official who is using patient’s credit card and store loyalty card transaction details to create so-called patient “risk profiles” donated to Obama for America, according to

The hospital has declined a reporter’s request to identify the data vendor giving patient consumer data to the hospital. However, there are two to watch: Health Catalyst and the collaborative group the Data Alliance Collaborative (DAC).

Health Catalyst reports in an article, “What is Data Mining in Healthcare,”

Like analytics and business intelligence, the term data mining can mean different things to different people. The most basic definition of data mining is the analysis of large data sets to discover patterns and use those patterns to forecast or predict the likelihood of future events.

That said, not all analyses of large quantities of data constitute data mining. We generally categorize analytics as follows:

Descriptive analytics—Describing what has happened

Predictive analytics—Predicting what will happen

Prescriptive analytics—Determining what to do about it

It is to the middle category—predictive analytics—that data mining applies. Data mining involves uncovering patterns from vast data stores and using that information to build predictive models.

In January, the six-year old Health Catalyst received $41 million in a third round of funding:

“Existing investors Sequoia Capital, Norwest Venture Partners, Kaiser Permanente Ventures, Sorenson Capital, CHV Capital — an Indiana University Health Company — and Partners HealthCare. The funding will make it possible for Health Catalyst to build out its healthcare analytics platform. The company plans to invest $50 million in product development over the next 24 months, including production of the next 200 advanced content-driven clinical applications on its roadmap.”

Health Catalyst clients include Kaiser Permanente, Partners HealthCare, Crystal Run Healthcare, Memorial Hospital at Gulport, Northbay Healthcare and Wisconsin Children’s Hospital.

According to an article published today by Bloomberg, Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS) in Charlotte “is placing its data, which include purchases a patient has made using a credit card or store loyalty card, into predictive models that give a risk score to patients”

CHS is working with IBM to develop a big data-mining system to compete with Healthy Catalyst.

The Bloomberg report states that CHS is running big data computer algorithms on two million Americans to identify people who may present a risk to the hospital by identifying people who allow their gym memberships to lapse, who purchase cigarettes, or who “[pick] up candy bars.”

At the ongoing Google I/O conference, Google CEO Larry Page says his company’s ability to collect vast amounts of personal information is positive, and that the company is not going far enough with the collection and analyzing of that information.

“For me, I’m so excited about the possibilities to improve things for people, my worry would be the opposite,” he told the New York Times’s Farhad Manjoo. “We get so worried about these things that we don’t get the benefits … Right now we don’t data-mine healthcare data. If we did we’d probably save 100,000 lives next year.”

Page’s remarks followed the the introduction of Google Fit, the company’s new fitness and health tracking platform that will put sensors on mobile devices, like smart watchers, that will monitor weight, eating habits and workout data to make suggestions, or if Obamacare gets involved, demand that Americans uphold positive helath care habits.

The CHS data mining program is being run by Michael Dulin, M.D., Ph.D., director of research and evidence-based medicine. According to, Dulin contributed $250 to Obama for America PAC in September 2012.

CHS is in partnership with IT and clinical experts launching the Data Alliance Collaborative (DAC).

According to a recent press release:

Through this first-of-its-kind initiative, DAC members are co-developing and sharing knowledge, data and resources to address unmet healthcare needs. They include:

  • Carolinas HealthCare System (Charlotte, N.C.),
  • Catholic Health Partners (Cincinnati),
  • Fairview Health Services (Minneapolis),
  • Texas Health Resources (Arlington, Texas),
  • IBM
  • Premier healthcare alliance.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) has been criticized as overly intrusive and another avenue for the federal government to spy on Americans.

The NSA is already collecting communications metadata and content, while vehicle “track and tax” pilot programs and mandatory new vehicle black boxes and toll road systems are increasingly tracking the movements of Americans.

Ironically, Dulin is happy to data mine patients, but refused to disclose to the Bloomberg reporter the name of the data vendor handing over patient consumer and spending profiles.

Under Dulin’s vision, not only will the hospital know about patient consumer activities, but that data will be shared with doctors. “If the early steps are successful, though, Dulin said he would like to renegotiate to get the data provider to share more specific details on patient spending with doctors” reports Bloomberg.

“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, we are looking to apply this for something good,” Dulin said.

Plenty of spokespeople will tell you that helping Americans make healthy choices, assisting them in managing their health, exercise and eating habits is a good thing. One only needs to spend time at the beach, or a theme park, to know we have a societal problem.

But is it the government’s role to fix that?

Ronald Reagan famously said “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

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