Add another vulnerability in an increasingly long list of threats to patient privacy – states are selling ‘anonymized’ hospital databases containing patient medical records that can be personally identified using publicly available information.

Although seemingly ‘anonymized’, researchers at the Harvard University Data Privacy Lab have demonstrated that individual patients can be identified using only publicly available information and their medical background.

In its special report, States’ Hospital Data for Sale Puts Privacy in Jeopardy, Bloomberg News made records request to each of the 20 most-populous states for lists of who’s buying their hospital discharge data. Only 12 states responded and supplied the data; the states are Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.

Public and privacy corporations, including corporations designated as “credit reporting agencies”, are the most frequent multi-state health profiles buyers. Below is a list of the top purchasers of medical data in 2011, ranked by the total number of states that purchasers bought from, as well as the corresponding states.

1. Truven Health Analytics – AZ, CA, FL, IL, MD, MA, NJ, NY, PA, TN, WA
2. OptumInsight Corporation (formerly, Ingenix Inc.) – CA, FL, IL, MD, MA, NJ, NY, PA, TX, WA
3. Milliman Inc. – AZ, CA, FL, IL, MD, MA, NY, TN, TX, WA
4. WebMD Health – AZ, CA, IL, MD, NJ, NY, PA, TN, WA
5. IMS Health (SDI Health and Verispan) – AZ, FL, IL, MD, NY, PA, TN, WA
6. Intellimed International – AZ, CA, FL, MD, NY, TX, WA
7. Service Employees International Union – CA, FL, MD, MA, PA, TN, WA
8. DataBay Resources – CA, FL, MA, NY, PA, WA
9. iVantage Health Analytics (Health InfoTechnics) – AZ, CA, FL, NY, TN, WA
10. Health Market Science – AZ, CA, FL, NJ, TN, WA
11. IPRO – AZ, CA, FL, MD, NY, WA
12. Press Ganey Associates – CA, IL, PA, TX, WA
13. QuadraMed – CA, FL, NY, TX, WA
14. Comparion Medical Analytics (The Delta Group) – AZ, CA, FL, MA, WA
15. McKinsey & Co. – CA, FL, MD, NY, TX
16. MedAssets – CA, FL, NY, WA
17. Navigant Consulting – CA, FL, MD, WA
18. Total Benchmark Solution – CA, FL, NY, WA
19. United BioSource – CA, FL, MD, WA
20. 1798 Consultants – CA, FL, NY
21. Health Planning & Development – CA, FL, WA
22. O’Conco Healthcare Consultants – NJ, NY, WA
23. The Chartis Group – CA, FL, WA
24. Treo Solutions – FL, NY, PA
25. Verras – CA, FL, WA
26. Agency For Healthcare Research and Quality – CA, PA, TX
27. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – CA, NY, WA
28. Federal Trade Commission – FL, MA, WA
29. National Bureau of Economic Research – CA, MA, NY
30. Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation – CA, MA, NY
31. Yale University – CA, MA, NY
32. 3M – CA, MD, WA
33. Bon Secours Health System – NJ, NY, PA
34. HCA Healthcare – CA, FL, WA

The data is supposed to remain anonymous. However, a specific “state exemption” from federal regulations allows states to sell large volumes of ‘hospital discharge data’ to data brokers and nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies. Although seemingly ‘anonymized’, researchers at the Harvard University Data Privacy Lab have proved that individual patients can be identified using only publicly available information and their medical background. For more information, see the Bloomberg News special report States’ Hospital Data for Sale Puts Privacy in Jeopardy.

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