Personal health information often seems locked-down: protected by patient privacy laws, encased in electronic record systems (EHRs) and difficult to share or transport by and between physicians and hospitals. But as Adam Tanner
argues in his latest book, Our Bodies, Our Data: How Companies Make Billions Selling Our Medical Records
(Beacon Press, 2017), our medical information is anything but static. He describes a vast and growing industry of trade in patient data, emanating from EHRs to pharmacy and drug company sales records. These data – ostensibly stripped of identifying information – are sold and bought largely to help medical and pharmaceutical companies better market their products (as well as for some research). Tanner asks, are these data completely safe? Could they be re-identified and threaten patient privacy? How might this trade in data impact patient care and physician practice? While consumer data breaches plague other industries, Tanner urges us as consumers, medical practitioners and society to have a much-needed and informed conversation about this largely hidden circulation of health information. His book is a great start.
Adam Tanner is a journalist, former foreign correspondent and leading expert on privacy and commercialization of personal data. His first book is entitled What Stays in Vegas:
the World of Personal Data – Lifeblood of Big Businesses – and the End of Privacy as We Know It (
Public Affairs, 2014). Currently, he is an associate at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. Learn more about his work on his website Adamtanner.news
and follow him on Twitter @DataCurtain
Dana Greenfield, MD PhD is a resident physician in Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. She completed her PhD in Medical Anthropology from UCSF/UC Berkeley in 2015 and MD at UCSF in 2018. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
or on Twitter @DanaGfield.