Life Sciences

Brokers Are Selling Your Health Data. So What?



Data privacy across all industries continues to be a big concern for everyone. When it comes to the life sciences and healthcare industries, patients are especially worried. They simply are afraid of being identified.

Life Sciences - How Artificial Intelligence Can Enhance the Clinical Data Review and Cleaning Process
How Artificial Intelligence Can Enhance the Clinical Data Review and Cleaning Process

This guide analyzes how artificial intelligence – including machine learning – can be used by pharmaceutical and medical device companies to improve the clinical data review and cleansing process.

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In a recent Scientific American article, Adam Tanner discussed the business of buying and selling health data. Health data brokerages have been around for quite some time. In fact, one of the largest players in the business, IMS Health, has been practicing this trade for decades. 

While it sounds slightly crude, at first, there’s a tremendous upside to the practice for all parties, including drug companies and patients alike. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Pharmaceutical companies can gain insight into a physician’s prescribing habits and adjust their sales pitch accordingly.
  • For researchers (and, therefore, patients), health data can shed light on new findings, such as “newer cardiovascular drugs can reduce the length of hospital stays but do not prolong lives” and “newer chemotherapy drugs are probably responsible for some of the recent decline in death rates from cancer in France.”

Today, regulations such as HIPAA don’t prohibit the sale of patient data, as long as patients are made unidentifiable via the stripping of personal information from the data, such as social security numbers, names, and addresses. In fact, there appears to be a strong appetite for such data. According to Marc Berger, who oversees the analysis of anonymized patient data at Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company spends $12 million annually to buy health data from a variety of sources, including IMS.

However, some privacy advocates and patients are concerned that patients can be re-identified by using business intelligence (BI) and analytics tools to connect the dots between various data repositories. That said, according to IMS, there’s no evidence of companies trying to re-identify anonymous patient data.

For now, I think it’s safe to say the sharing of patient data does more good than harm.

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Sr. Marketing Manager, Industries, Perficient

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