Adam Tanner is an associate at Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. He is the author of What Stays in Vegas: The World of Personal Data-Lifeblood of Big Business-and the End of Privacy as We Know It (2014), and Our Bodies, Our Data: How Companies Make Billions Selling Our Medical Records (2017).
Doctors, insurance companies, pharmacies, blood test labs, hospitals and insurance processors sell our most intimate medical records, without our knowledge and without our consent. My broader research is aimed at exposing this trade, using investigative reporting to weave together the narrative story of how clever marketers came to buy and sell our medical data. For this fellowship, I would like to detail contrasts in medical data sharing in Japan and the United States. My research will include a major focus on data brokers including IMS Health, a 60-year old company which, via secret alliances, has come to dominate the trafficking in personal medical data. With an Abe Fellowship, I would like to study how IMS entered the Japanese market in the 1960s and how the gathering of data evolved in Japan. The research would provide a contrast to work I have begun doing in the United States and Europe and could result in both a separate article and a chapter in a future book I plan on the subject. IMS today has become the dominant medical data broker, buying individual prescription records, blood test results, details of hospital and doctor visits and other data. It links individual prescription and other records, in effect building an anonymized dossier on hundreds of millions of patients in the world's richest nations. The overall objective is to produce a narrative that sparks public debate and perhaps legislative reform as to how societies should best handle the sharing of personal medical data in the future.