Will Retail Beat Hospitals to Patient Engagement?

by Tim Hanners - 07/25/14

I recently read an alert about the implications of third parties mining health data. Don’t get too excited—this wasn’t about hacking into hospital patient data. The alert was about third parties using the consumer purchase and behavior data readily available to them. Is retail moving into the healthcare data space faster than hospitals? With HIPAA, of course, hospitals cannot sell or even give protected health information (PHI) to retailers, but retailers may not need it.


With sales of digitally connected health devices such as Fitbits on the rise, new online-based monitoring programs such as digital glucometers, and growing numbers of social network support groups, retailers can access just about all the information they need, match it with their big data, and reach consumers directly without any help from healthcare providers.

Google “joint pain medicine” and see how many ads are served up. Then think about the fact that you have just given Google what it needs to help its clients find more people just like you. This is how much data retailers can obtain about you without you even being a patient. But despite concerns of privacy invasion and profit-centered focus, large firms may actually help bring solutions to areas that are still sadly disconnected, with applications including connecting patients with clinical trials they could benefit from or regionally predicting epidemics. Would that be all that bad?

Meaningful Use Stage 2 requires providers to use clinically relevant information to identify patients who should receive reminders for preventive/follow-up care and send these patients reminders, per the patients’ preferred communication method.1 It looks like the retailers may just beat us to that. But they don’t have to. At the end of the day, people would rather hear from the local trusted expert, but we have to start the communication in a modern way.

1. http://www.cms.gov/Regulations-and-Guidance/Legislation/EHRIncentivePrograms/Downloads/Stage2_MeaningfulUseSpecSheet_TableContents_EPs.pdf

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