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keep calm and sell your data imageRemember when American taxpayers spent over $25B(that’s billion) on digitizing medical records? If you don’t … well, we did.

The last time you went to the doctor, how easy was it for you to see your aftercare instructions online, or follow up on your prescriptions, or get your lab results in the online patient portal?

My guess is that it might have been easy-ish to see stuff in your doctor’s patient portal, but sharing that data from, say, your primary care MD with your ob/gyn or your rheumatologist — unless they were in the same system, in the same practice office — would have been a big NOPE. You would have done what all of us did back in the ’80s, and the ’90s, and the ’00s, and still today — you would have printed it out, or paid for a copy, and then lugged that paper with you to the other MD’s office. Where it would have been stuffed into a paper chart, and/or hand-entered into that practice’s EHR (Electronic Health Record). 20% — that’s one in five — MDs still use paper charts (as of 2016).

OK, so now you’re as up to speed as you’ll need to be for the rest of my point here — American taxpayers have shelled out major moolah to digitize medical records. When it comes to those American taxpayers’ benefits from said digitization, that’s YMMV territory, that right there.

Which makes the major moolah that the healthcare system is minting off of de-IDing and selling the data inside those records pretty infuriating. What, you say, you had no idea that was happening? Not surprising, because the healthcare system DOES. NOT. WANT. YOU. TO. KNOW., since if you did know, you might protest. Or even (gasp) ask to be cut in on that moolah.

Have you ever heard of a company called QuintilesIMS [NYSE: Q]? If not, you’re not alone. IMS Health was founded in the 1950s, and built a market for prescription data collected by their field agents in pharmacies across the US, and then the world. Quintiles was founded in the 1980s as a CRO (Contract Research Organization) recruiting for pharmaceutical clinical trials. IMS merged with Quintiles last year (2016), yielding up the new QuintilesIMS.

The company hoovers up petabytes-worth of our health record data every year — not a HIPAA violation, since this data is “de-identified” (just go Google “Latanya Sweeney” for some 411 on how effective that whole de-ID-ing thing really is) — and then sells it to the highest bidder. The revenue from those sales amounts to a significant chunk of the company’s earnings (2016 total revenue $1.953B — major moolah, indeed).

That’s

  • our health data
  • created by our interaction with our healthcare team
  • paid for by us, and our healthcare coverage.

American healthcare cost $3.4 trillion-with-a-T in 2016. American taxpayers ponied up more than $25 billion-with-a-B to make it easier for data brokers like QuintilesIMS to suck up and sell the data in our medical records.

I think it’s long past time for all the players in this little major-moolah circle jerk to recognize just “whose data is it anyway” and start spreading the gelt. Amazon cards; points amassed for vacations or cars or furniture, o my; tuition credits; tax breaks; a partridge in a pear tree, dipped in platinum — any of those would work. Even cold, hard cash.

But first, we gotta rise up, and demand it, in chorus. There’s a rising level of noise about creating a new economy, for/by the people, based on the data created by we-the-people.

The conventional commercial doctrine is that data are proprietary to the companies that collect them. This needs to change profoundly and completely since the playing field can only be leveled by making data available to all potential competitors. One way of achieving this is to ensure data belong to the people who generate the information, i.e., to individuals who drive cars, surf the internet, and buy goods. Enforcing this principle will ensure that data can be accessed by all, but also that individuals are compensated for the activities that generate information, at the same time as receiving a strong degree of privacy protection. ~ Foreign Policy, “It’s Time to Found a New Republic” August 14, 2017 tweet

Let’s make it happen. Start the chorus. Three … two … one … SING!

I’d say we start singing in the direction of the FCC, the FTC, and our (totally not doing their jobs these days) Congressional “representatives.” And start singing out about data-brokers like QuintilesIMS.

We MUST pay attention to the man behind the curtain. ’Cause he’s holding on to ALL of the money!

This post originally appeared on my Medium channel

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