Data Re-identification

I have spoken about how important the selling of data is to third parties. It’s called money. From a colleague of mine:

I am not inherently opposed to analyzing my practice (population) as a whole — on terms that are actually helpful to me and not overly burdensome. In fact, I think it would be helpful to me and my patients. But, whenever third-parties demand data that we all know cannot possibly improve the care of our patients/practice, this type of stuff makes me wonder “what’s their real motivation?”.

This article goes into more detail about that.  Some highlights:

  • Americans’ medical data are regularly sold — often without the knowledge of patients. It’s part of a trade worth billions of dollars.
  • HIPAA only governs named data.
  • After a person gets medical care,” Tanner writes, “pharmacies, insurers, labs, electronic record systems and the middlemen connecting all these entities automatically transmit patient data directly to what is, in effect, a big health data bazaar.”
  • Advertisers can use this to target likely customers.

The article also talks about another dimension to the problem. It’s called “re-identification” and as the article states:

  • Re-identification of anonymous files is not illegal: It is legal to use all the data available to figure out which patient file belongs to whom.

Holy crap.  As my colleague went on to say, “So HIPAA is used a bludgeon to “protect privacy”, but it’s fully okay to do a high-tech jigsaw puzzle after the fact to figure out who’s who?!?!”


As far as DPC clinics go, I work with Atlas MD software, which does not sell any data.  Actually, there are no bogus quality metrics in there to sell.




Douglas Farrago MD

Douglas Farrago MD is a full-time practicing family doc in Forest, Va. He started Forest Direct Primary Care where he takes no insurance and bills patients a monthly fee. He is board certified in the specialty of Family Practice. He is the inventor of a product called the Knee Saver which is currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Knee Saver and its knock-offs are worn by many major league baseball catchers. He is also the inventor of the CryoHelmet used by athletes for head injuries as well as migraine sufferers. Dr. Farrago is the author of four books, two of which are the top two most popular DPC books. From 2001 – 2011, Dr. Farrago was the editor and creator of the Placebo Journal which ran for 10 full years. Described as the Mad Magazine for doctors, he and the Placebo Journal were featured in the Washington Post, US News and World Report, the AP, and the NY Times. Dr. Farrago is also the editor of the blog Authentic Medicine which was born out of concern about where the direction of healthcare is heading and the belief that the wrong people are in charge. This blog has been going daily for more than 15 years Article about Dr. Farrago in Doximity Email Dr. Farrago – [email protected] 

  1 comment for “Data Re-identification

  1. RSW
    January 17, 2017 at 10:11 am

    This is the explanation behind the movement to turn MDs into data entry clerks, and makes the joyful participation of our medical societies in the process all the more despicable.

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