A scary story: Big brother is watching what you eat and buy

This is a scary story about massive invasions of privacy in the US. This is a travesty in my opinion and one that needs exposure.

According to a story in Bloomberg, doctors and hospitals are watching what you eat, buy, wear, and more. Why? To better manage your health, of course. If you buy a donut somewhere, whether for yourself or as a treat for a grandchild, a company like Acxiom or LexisNexis may be recording that buy and selling that information to your insurer but only for “marketing.” 

The Carolinas HealthCare System for one…”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.”

“University of Pittsburgh, which operates more than 20 hospitals in Pennsylvania and a health insurance plan, is using demographic and household information to try to improve patients’ health.”  Remember the Penn State wellness scandal? Is there something bad in the water in Pennsylvania?

Okay let me get this straight.  If you buy one of the following, your doctor and your health system really should know about it and it should become a part of your medical record?

  • a dozen donuts
  • a cigar for your grandfather
  • a pack of condoms
  • a burger at McDonalds
  • a half pound of deli salami
  • a steak dinner
  • a milk shake
  • a martini after work
  • a case of diet soda

How about too many/much:

  • pounds of coffee (even if it is for your club)?
  • packages of hot dogs (they won’t know your feeding your kids entire soccer team)?
  • popcorn?

Or not enough:

  • fresh fruit?
  • veggies (even if your grow your own)?
  • skim milk?

How about if your teenage son buys a package of condoms? That needs to be in his medical record for your health system/insurer to peruse?

This is nuts…plain nuts, but, alas, the predicable result of the nation’s and employers’ obsession with collecting your personal heath information. I guess if your want privacy you’d best pay cash. But maybe face recognition tools will thwart that too.

For the record, I can’t think of anything I buy that should be keep secret but the idea that my health systems can access my purchase is utterly repugnant to me.

Here is the understatement of the week, says “Jorjanne Murry, an accountant in Charlotte, North Carolina, who has Type 1 diabetes. ‘I think it is intrusive.’ “

BTW:  I’m not a privacy nut, but these kinds of data will create an abundance of “false positives” and rabbit trails (def, an exercises in futility).  I see no real value in this nonsense.


Tom Emerick

Cracking Health Costs, the book, an Amazon best seller, is available on Amazon at a deeply discounted price.  Click here:  Cracking Health Costs: How to Cut Your Company’s Health Costs and Provide Employees Better Care by Tom Emerick and Al Lewis.

Tom Emerick is the President of Emerick Consulting and co-founder of Edison Health. In December 2012, Tom was listed in Forbes.com as one of 13 unsung heroes changing healthcare forever. In 2009, Tom was named by Healthspottr as one of the top 100 innovators in healthcare in the US for his work on medical ethics. Prior to consulting, Tom spent a number of years working for large corporations: Walmart Stores, Burger King, and British Petroleum.


  1. Aaron Davis says:

    Tom, there’s a snippet from the movie “Terms and Conditions May Apply” that relates to the misuse of information you describe here. The movie is on Netflix and the part I’m talking about starts at the 34th minute and gives and example of the misinterpretation of data for a guy named Jerome Schwartz. If you get a chance, you might enjoy it as an example of what you’re concerned about.

  2. Tom Emerick says:

    Great tip. I’ll find the movie.


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