Hospitals Are Mining Patients’ Credit Card Data to Predict Who Will Get Sick

Business Week
By Shannon Pettypiece and Jordan Robertson

Imagine getting a call from your doctor if you let your gym membership lapse, make a habit of buying candy bars at the checkout counter, or begin shopping at plus-size clothing stores. For patients of Carolinas HealthCare System, which operates the largest group of medical centers in North and South Carolina, such a day could be sooner than they think. Carolinas HealthCare, which runs more than 900 care centers, including hospitals, nursing homes, doctors’ offices, and surgical centers, has begun plugging consumer data on 2 million people into algorithms designed to identify high-risk patients so that doctors can intervene before they get sick. The company purchases the data from brokers who cull public records, store loyalty program transactions, and credit card purchases.

Information on consumer spending can provide a more complete picture than the glimpse doctors get during an office visit or through lab results, says Michael Dulin, chief clinical officer for analytics and outcomes research at Carolinas HealthCare. The Charlotte-based hospital chain is placing its data into predictive models that give risk scores to patients. Within two years, Dulin plans to regularly distribute those scores to doctors and nurses who can then reach out to high-risk patients and suggest changes before they fall ill. “What we are looking to find are people before they end up in trouble,” says Dulin, who is a practicing physician.

For a patient with asthma, the hospital would be able to assess how likely he is to arrive at the emergency room by looking at whether he’s refilled his asthma medication at the pharmacy, has been buying cigarettes at the grocery store, and lives in an area with a high pollen count, Dulin says. The system may also look at the probability of someone having a heart attack by considering factors such as the type of foods she buys and if she has a gym membership. “The idea is to use Big Data and predictive models to think about population health and drill down to the individual levels,” he says.

While Carolinas HealthCare can share patients’ risk assessments with their doctors under the hospital’s contract with its data provider, the health-care chain isn’t allowed to disclose details, such as specific transactions by an individual, says Dulin, who declined to name the data provider.

If the early steps are successful, though, Dulin says he’d like to renegotiate to get the data provider to share more specific details with the company’s doctors on their patients’ spending habits. “The data is already used to market to people to get them to do things that might not always be in the best interest of the consumer,” he says. “We are looking to apply this for something good.”

Many patients and their advocates are voicing concerns that Big Data’s expansion into medical care will threaten privacy. “It is one thing to have a number I can call if I have a problem or question; it is another thing to get unsolicited phone calls. I don’t like that,” says Jorjanne Murry, an accountant in Charlotte who has Type 1 diabetes and says she usually ignores calls from her health insurer trying to discuss her daily habits. “I think it is intrusive.”

Health advocates and privacy experts worry that relying more on data analysis also will erode doctor-patient relationships. “If the physician already has the information, the relationship changes from an exchange of information to a potential inquisition about behavior,” says Ryan Holmes, assistant director of health care ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

Data brokers have revealed few details on what they sell to health-care providers, and those acquiring the data are often barred from disclosing which company they purchased it from. Acxiom (ACXM) and LexisNexis (ENL) are two of the largest data brokers that collect information on individuals. Acxiom says its data are supposed to be used only for marketing, not for medical purposes or to be included in medical records. LexisNexis says it doesn’t sell consumer information to health insurers for the purpose of identifying patients at risk.

While some patients may benefit from data collection, hospitals also have a growing financial stake in knowing more about the people they care for. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, hospital pay is becoming increasingly linked to quality metrics rather than the traditional fee-for-service model in which hospitals are paid based on the numbers of tests or procedures they perform. As a result, the U.S. has begun levying fines on hospitals that have too many patients readmitted within a month and rewarding hospitals that fare well against clinical benchmarks and on patient surveys.

“Occupy Your Home”: Confronting “Electro Pollution” and Smart Meter Toxification

Global Research

An overwhelming majority of US and Canadian citizens are entirely unaware that an especially dangerous device has been attached to their homes. While installation of “smart meters” across North America has continued apace since 2009 the health effects such devices pose have yet to be fully realized. Left unaddressed the broad use and continued deployment of such equipment will almost certainly influence human health for many generations to come.

On May 22 my household received a “Notification Letter” from Florida Power and Light (FPL) stating the company’s intent to replace our existing analog meter with a new device equipped to communicate with other such meters in the utility’s wireless “mesh network.” According to FPL we are among roughly 20,000 of Florida homes that have rejected the new digital device in lieu of an analog model. The letter carries the industry’s familiar line–that the “meter upgrade” is intended to “provide you with more information so you can take more control over your energy use and monthly bills” while more readily “identify[ing]” and resolving power outages.

The correspondence came as quite a surprise since in late 2011 after explaining to FPL the health-related consequences of such electro-pollution and expressing concerns for my family’s well-being, the company agreed to remove the “smart meter” and replace it with one that does not emit such energy. This was done only after conducting my own investigation, providing the company with substantial medical research documenting the negative health effects of RF microwave radiation, and threatening legal action.

FPL was in fact much more reasonable in addressing my concerns than was the Florida Public Service Commission, whose legal counsel informed me flatly that the body had no authority over smart meter deployment and referred me to the Federal Communications Commission. Only after submitting a public records request to the agency did I discover that the information Commission members accepted to evaluate the safety of such equipment in terms of human health consisted largely of smart meter manufacturer and utility boilerplate, including a FPL “PowerPoint”-like presentation seemingly pitched to a fifth grade audience.

Upon receiving FPL’s May 22 letter I took a few hours to write a response to the company’s president, taking care to outline my past communication with them, the concerns I have over the device’s potentially negative effects on my family’s health, and the fact that they recognized and fulfilled my opt out request almost two years ago. A few days after sending my letter off, the executive’s assistant called to inform us the notification letter was likely the result of a computer glitch and should have never been sent.

The foremost danger of smart meters is that they are designed to communicate with each other by emitting substantial and frequent bursts of radio frequency (RF) microwave pollution several thousand times per day–a cumulative burden on one’s genetic and biological makeup that children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to given their respective developing and degenerative conditions. Yet the documented health effects are something FPL never voluntarily told me about, and your power utility will likely not tell you.

For example, FPL spokeswoman Elaine Hinsdale disingenuously remarked that smart meters’ radio frequencies are akin “to those in a garage-door opener and hundreds of times less than emission limits set by the Federal Communications Commission.” According to Hinsdale, “You’d have to stand right next to the smart-meter for more than a year to equal the radio-frequency exposure of a 15-minute cellphone call … Once we talk to our customers and explain how it will repair power outages faster and safer, they understand.” In 2011 when I contacted FPL via telephone to inquire on the overall safety of the devices I was similarly told that RF radiation is emitted only “a few times per day.”

Yet other sources I consulted observed that such emissions are much more frequent. I thus purchased a German-made Gigahertz Solution HF35C Elektrosmog Analyzer and did my own measurements. To my surprise I found that FPL’s meter was emitting RF bursts in excess of 2,000 microwatts per square meter at a distance of five feet several times every thirty seconds to one minute. This pulsing radiation was detected in varying degrees of intensity elsewhere throughout the home and may have at least partially explained the common symptoms of electro-hypersensitivity I was experiencing.

If the US public was served by a more honest and diligent press smart meters and RF radiation in general would not endanger public health to the extent they do today. This is particularly the case since a multitude of scientific studies exist that point to the deleterious health effects of RF energy exposure–especially in children and the elderly. Such information is intentionally overlooked by power utilities and little-if-any acknowledgement of negative health effects appear in any of the vacuous paraphernalia they provide their customers–and state regulators–promoting the meters.

When I pressed FPL representatives on what studies the company had conducted on smart meter safety they sent me a privately commissioned 2011 report, Florida Power and Light Advanced Meter Infrastructure & Distribution Automation RF Exposure Survey, produced by an obscure Arlington Virginia firm called Site Safe. [Matthew J. Butcher, Florida Power and Light Advanced Meter Infrastructure & Distribution Automation RF Exposure Survey, Arlington Virginia: Site Safe, June 10, 2011. In author’s possession.] The study’s findings assert that one receives almost the equivalent amount of RF radiation standing one meter away from a smart meter as they would within the immediate vicinity of a cell phone tower–an especially alarming observation!

However, the research’s overall flaw and deceptive nature lies in the absence of suitable methodological parameters for examining how smart meters pulse lesser amounts of such microwave radiation throughout the home up to 190,000 times per day. Germany’s Standard Building Biology Measurements of 2008 caution that specifically in terms of human health “pulsed signals [are] to be taken more seriously than continuous ones.” When I contacted the author of the Site Safe study via telephone and email to evaluate his credentials for authoring such a study, he refused to provide me with any information that might confirm such training and expertise.

In May 2011 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified RF as a Class 2B carcinogen. This means that caution should be applied because exposure to RF and EMF may cause cancer. Given such an admission power utilities should be exercising the precautionary principal lest they further endanger human health with the continued wide-scale deployment of smart meters. FPL and the broader power industry have produced no compelling scientific evidence to date that even tentatively confirms the safety of smart meters. With this in mind, and in terms specifically related to human health, the power industry writ large is executing a transparently dangerous and criminal fraud against the US public.

A half century ago tobacco and asbestos were known menaces to health and over the long term exposure to these substances culminated in a variety of cancers and other terminal diseases compelling the government to intervene on the public’s behalf. The credible scientific evidence suggests the same holds true for exposure to RF microwave radiation. In fact, government and academic research dating to the 1960s points to the potential health dangers of sustained RF and EMF exposure. While the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, and the American Cancer Society claim that RF and EMF pose no health risks, their conclusions are based on dubious and outdated studies often funded by the telecommunications industry itself.

Current independent scientific and medical research paints an entirely different picture. For example, in 2012 the American Academy of Environmental Medicine generated a list of 86 scientific studies and bibliographies on the health effects of EMF, RF and  extremely low frequency (ELF) microwave radiation dating to 1971. Referencing this literature, in January 2012 the AAEM Board issued a public statement to the California Public Utilities Commission expressing its concern over smart meter installations across the state. “[E]xisting FCC guidelines for RF safety that have been used to justify installation of ‘smart meters’ only look at thermal tissue damage and are obsolete,” the Board observed,  since many modern studies [such as those used by the FCC] show metabolic and genomic damage from RF and ELF exposures below the level of intensity which heats tissues … More modern literature shows medically and biologically significant effects of RF and ELF at lower energy densities.

These effects accumulate over time, which is an important consideration given the chronic nature of exposure from “smart meters”. The current medical literature raises credible questions about genetic and cellular effects, hormonal effects, male fertility, blood/brain barrier damage and increased risk of certain types of cancers from RF or ELF levels similar to those emitted from “smart meters”. Children are placed at particular risk for altered brain development, and impaired learning and behavior. Further, EMF/RF adds synergistic effects to the damage observed from a range of toxic chemicals. Given the widespread, chronic, and essentially inescapable ELF/RF exposure of everyone living near a “smart meter”, the Board of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine finds it unacceptable from a public health standpoint to implement this technology until these serious medical concerns are resolved.

Along these lines in 2007 and again in 2012 the BioInitiative Working Group, an international body of academic scientists, medical doctors and public health professionals released a comprehensive review of over 2000 scientific studies and reviews, concluding that RF and EMF exposure can contribute to childhood leukemia and lay the groundwork for a variety of adult cancers.

Aside from long term adverse health effects, smart meters also pose more immediate safety and privacy concerns. The equipment has not been inspected by and thus does not meet  the protocols of the internationally recognized authority on consumer appliance safety standards, Underwriters Laboratory, a potential violation of numerous state and local municipal codes. Careless installation or the limited integrity of smart meter engineering and design have been pointed to as the possible cause of house fires. “We have encountered an unusual amount of fire incidents involving smart meters,” an Ontario Fire Marshal explains to the Vancouver Sun. “New meters may have defects that cause electrical failures (or they may be caused by) careless installation during a changeover.”

Finally, the collection and uncertain wireless transmission of intimate data related to a family’s domestic power usage and everyday life encompassed in residential occupancy also serve as a potential basis for the violation of protections from illegal search and seizure guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. This lifestyle-related information relayed throughout the mesh network via RF microwave may be easily “hacked” and the broader network attacked by any number of third parties, including criminals and terrorists. Such data may also be easily accessed by police or other government agencies that would otherwise need a warrant and probable cause to access such information. Utility customers should remind power companies that they do not consent to any personal data related to electrical usage and living patterns aggregated and sold to third parties, including marketers, appliance manufacturers, or data analyst subcontractors.

Already RF is involuntarily yielded to through the ubiquitous radiation emitted from local area networks (“Wi-Fi”) in places of employment and public areas. This is compounded by the voluntary exposure to RF through close quarter cell phone and household Wi-Fi use. With the combined financial and advertising power of the telecommunications service and wireless-manufacturing industries the research clearly pointing to the harmful health effects of RF remains to a large degree unknown. Given their wide scale use and around-the-clock activity, smart meters complete the circle of what is now ceaseless RF bombardment; their broad deployment anticipates a not-too-distant future when they will engage with “smart” appliances within the home, further disseminating such radiation while arbitrarily exerting power over everyday energy use and unlawfully collecting vital and likely profitable data on behavior and lifestyle.

Refusing Smart Meters to Protect Your Health and Privacy

Waking Times
by Anna Hunt

Smart meters are being deployed by electric companies worldwide, replacing old, yet functioning analog meters, because it gives them a way to interact with the homes of their customers, monitor electricity consumption, and offer “smart home” control and functionality. Oh, and let’s not forget that they also save money. At least this the big sales pitch they are giving us.

By providing detailed information about the energy usage in your home, smart meters can alert you if your new smart refrigerator suddenly becomes an electricity hog and needs to be serviced, if your kids had a party when you were off on a business trip, or if you forgot to turn off your smart stove before you left for work.


Goodbye Privacy – Hello Big Brother

Depending on the functionality of the meter, the smart meter may be able to track how much electricity is used within each room of the home, as well as how much is used by the various new smart appliances in your house. Just as the smart meters can communicate wirelessly with devices such as TV sets or tablets to show you your electrical consumption, they also communicate this information with the power company, which keeps records about the volumes and patterns associated with your daily life.

Below is a video that explores the privacy implications of this data exchange. With this information, whoever has access to the data can get a pretty clear picture of your life: how much time you spend out of the house and at what time of the day; when you watch TV the most; when you are on vacation; if it looks like you’re running a business out of your home; and so forth. The implications for personal surveillance are staggering.

Governments, law enforcement agencies, and even companies will be able to access the data housed by the electric company (which the government is already doing to enforce business licenses). The implications are even more serious considering that such intimate personal data about your daily life can be easily intercepted by hackers as it is broadcast over the radio waves.

Electromagnetic Radiation and Your Health

This short video that shows a resident measuring the radio signals sent from the smart meter using microwave radiation. This man decided to make this video because within 3-months of the installation of a new smart meter, the shrubbery around the smart meter mysteriously died, although it thrived around the old electrical meter without any problems and continues to thrive a certain distance beyond the meter.

Advocates of smart meters will tell you that the wireless radiation emitted by these devices is within “safe levels,” often referencing ‘decades of research,’ much of which has been funded by the companies that make the smart meters. Unfortunately, many are beginning to suffer with insomnia, headaches and other illnesses after the installation of a smart meter.

In May of 2011, the World Health Organization official recognized that wireless radiation such as emitted by “smart meters” is a possible carcinogen. – source

What Can You Do?

Are you going to allow the power company to install a radiation-emitting surveillance device on your home?

Here’s an interview with a woman from Illinois that refused to have one installed on her house, informed the electric company of her decision by writing, yet was eventually arrested when the police and electric company crew came once again to install the meter on her house.

Power companies will typically install these devices on your home based on “implied consent” unless you make it clear that you do not grant permission for them to switch out your old meter or add any new device to your home. Some utilities companies, for example PG&E in California, are charging “opt-out” fees of customers refusing the smart meters, in an attempt to dissuade people from opting out as well as to cover “the cost of paying workers to read the analog meters each month.” (source)

The opposition to smart meters is growing everyday as more people learn about the sinister implications of these devices.

In Texas, Republican Senator Dennis Bonnen has threatened to draft legislation that would allow all residents to opt-out from the Public Utility Commission’s smart meter’s initiative.

SMART METERS: A triple threat

PPG Gazette, July 26, 2011

As a nationwide revolt is growing against the invasive and costly electric Smart Meters, public utilities and corporations, intent on putting the entire nation under surveillance unlawfully, not to mention creating a massive health threat, are moving quickly to install phase 2 of the SMART GRID: Gas Smart Meters. It won’t stop there; they are planning on rolling out SMART water meters as quickly as possible.

On March 31, 2011 in Capitola California, it was reported that PG & E spokesman Jeff Smith said a total of 17 of the wireless devices were installed on residences and businesses where existing meters had been damaged by floods. Fifteen of the meters were for gas and two were for electric.

The City Council placed a moratorium on Smart Meter installations in February, though the California Public Utilities Commission has sole authority over PG&E. (This authority over PG&E pertains ONLY to PG&E and cannot be construed and extended to mean authority over private citizens and communitites)

The California Public Utilities Commission may have sole authority over PG & E, but they do not have authority over private property and the owner’s rights to refuse the meters. The statement CPUC is using is misleading as it leads people to believe that because the CPUC has authority over PG&E, that that authority is somehow extended to private citizens.

CPUC has NO authority over private citizens and cannot arbitrarily subject them to a product or service they do not want and surely do not need.

Full story

Big Pharma Is Watching You

MoneyWatch.com, Dec. 2, 2010

The way things stand now, consumers’ personal information — often sensitive stuff about our health — is being sold without our knowledge or consent to on-line marketers; they then use it to bombard us with sales pitches for expensive drugs, medical devices and even surgical procedures. How does this happen? Let’s say that you’ve had a pain in your chest for the past two days. If you’re anything like me, you can’t wait to see a doctor. Instead you rush to your trusty computer and google “heart attack” or “chest pain” and try to figure out by wading through scores of websites, blogs, scholarly medical journals and interactive quizzes, whether you should call 911 immediately or stop snacking on Jalapeno peppers. But when you make such a query, according to a 144-page complaint filed last week with the FTC by several consumer groups (the Center for Digital Democracy, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Consumer Watchdog and the World Privacy Forum), mechanisms designed to pick up your medical information are lurking everywhere. “Consumers now confront a sophisticated and largely stealth interactive medical marketing apparatus that has unleashed an arsenal of techniques designed to promote the use of specific brand drugs and influence consumers about treatment for health conditions,” states the complaint.Full story

Chips ahoy: Big pharma to put computers in pills

People’s World, Nov. 16, 2010

According to some recent news stories we all may be swallowing computer chips in the near future. Some big drug companies are planning to put micro-chips in the pills we take in order to make sure we take our meds (and of course use up those pills so we have to buy more). Science fiction? Not in the least. Reuters reported on November 8, in a story by Ben Hirschler, that Novartis AG is hoping to get regulators to approve its new “smart pill” by 2012. Here is how it works. A microchip goes into the pill along with meds, it transmits its information to a skin patch which in turn can relay the information over the internet or to a smartphone.Full story