Is Your Doctor Spying On Your Eating And Other Habits?


Some medical providers are now spying on how many burgers you have, how often you order a pizza, when you have a beer, and when you sneak a smoke. They’re blurring the Big Brother line in doing so, but they could also be saving your life.

Carolinas HealthCare is one health care system identified in a BusinessWeek story that has data on 2 million people designed to identify who is at high risk to be sick so they can intervene with them.

Another facility reportedly doing the same thing with data mining is University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

How do they get this info? They pay data brokers who comb through public records, store loyalty program records, and info on your credit card transactions.

What kind of info are they using on you?

Among the things they’re looking for:

  • How many times you eat pizza or fast food
  • How often people with bronchial problems buy cigarettes
  • How often you bought alcohol
  • Are you forgetting to refill your prescriptions?

So they’ll take this info and then call you and say, “We’re worried about the possibility of you having diabetes…” or whatever it may be. It’s an aggressive, paternalistic intervention based on spying on you.

The purpose of this approach is to save them money. But if you get past the creepy intrusive, it’s possible they can save your life too. It is one of those lines that is very fuzzy. I could rant about Big Brother or I could take the other standpoint and say, “Isn’t this neat? Just think how many lives they’ll save.”

The reality is it is a mixed bag. It reminds me of employers offering financial incentive for you to get healthy.

A lot of our health issues are because of lifestyle choices. That’s coming from the Carryout Kid here. The choices we make can, though not necessarily will, impact our health. You always hear the story about the triathlete who dropped dead early or the vegetarian who died prematurely with terrible cancer.

The great news which is not being reported at all is that obesity has leveled off and the number of calories we’re consuming is declining.


But if you get a weirdo call form your insurer, know that they may be building a dossier on you from public records and then nudge you to do things to lower their costs.

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