By Kim Zetter
October 19, 2009
When patients visit a physician or hospital, they know that anyone
involved in providing their health care can lawfully see their medical
But unknown to patients, an increasing number of outside vendors that
manage electronic health records also have access to that data, and are
reselling the information as a commodity.
The revelation comes in a recent New York Times article about how
so-called "scrubbed" patient data isn't as anonymous as people think.
The piece focuses primarily on how anonymized data can be cross-bred
with other publicly available databases, such as voting records, which
subverts the anonymity. Buried near the end of the article is the news
that medical data is collected, anonymized and sold, not by insurance
agencies and health care providers, but by third-party vendors who
provide medical-record storage in the cloud.
Electronic health record (EHR) services have been a growing industry in
the last few years, according to Sue Reber, marketing director of the
Certification Commission for Health Information Technology. Reber says
most vendors used to simply sell software packages; once the product was
sold, the vendor had no connection to the data stored in it. But an
increasing number of companies have begun to offer web-based
software-management applications that include database storage
controlled and managed by the vendor.
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