Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Australian doctors sell medical records

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that Australian doctors are legally selling de-identified patient records to a company that will provide the data to pharmaceutical companies.

Australian doctors sell medical records - Breaking News - National - Breaking News:

"Australian doctors are legally selling confidential medical records to a marketing firm with links to the pharmaceutical industry. GPs are handing over their patients' drug records - with no names attached - and receiving as little as $150 or gift vouchers as payment, a Melbourne newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The federal Privacy Commissioner has approved the deal between doctors and the Cam Group, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical promotions companies, because the information was 'de-identified' and did not breach the Privacy Act, the Herald Sun said.

But, according to the paper, the commissioner warned the government last year that removing a patient's name and address did not guarantee anonymity.

The promotion company collects the data through software used by 16,000 Australian GPs, collates the information and sells it to drug companies.

So far about 200 GPs across Australia have signed up, the paper said.

The Australian Consumers Association complained to Privacy Commissioner about the deal last year, alleging it broke privacy laws and was a threat to the doctor-patient relationship."

It takes much more than removing names and addresses to make medical records anonymous. I recall a study from not long ago in which the owners of "de-identified" medical records were identified with +90% accuracy by matching against public sources.

The more important thing is that patients probably don't care about how anonymous it can be rendered or the finer points of data matching. If they hear that their information is being sold to pharma companies, they will likely lose trust in their physicians.

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