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U.S. medical data sold: Here's how

Posting in Government

We may think our medical records are kept safe in U.S. hospitals, but a number of states are flogging data which can identify us easily.

States ranging from Washington to New York are selling compiled records that can be used to link individuals to medical conditions. As records become digitized and hacking becomes more sophisticated, the risk to patient privacy rises.

Bloomberg documents the story of Ray Boylston, who had a motorcycle accident in 2011 after going into diabetic shock. The accident was covered briefly in a local newspaper, but Boylston's medical history was only disclosed to family members and the doctors who treated him. However, after a stay in Washington, the state added his paperwork to a database of 650,000 hospitalizations available for sale to researchers, companies and the general public.

The publication notes: "because of state exemption from federal regulations governing discharge information, Boylston could be identified and his medical background exposed using only publicly available information."

The 62 year-old said he felt "violated" by the proceedings, and he is unlikely to be the only one. Due to current privacy laws, state public-health agencies are exempt from federal law, which means that when selling medical data, some states release marker combinations including ZIP codes and ages -- making information more succinct and valuable -- but also contributing to the risk of identification.

The medical-data industry is projected to surpass $10 billion by 2020.

Read More: Bloomberg

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Image credit: Flickr

— By on June 5, 2013, 6:51 PM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure