Friday, April 29, 2011

ACC Responds (Again) to Why They Track Their Membership

I appreciate the American College of Cardiology responding to my concerns regarding the finding of RFID tags in our name badges at the recent ACC.11 & i2 Summit Scientific Conferences and expanding upon their earlier explanation. I encourage all readers of this blog to read it.

Now for a bit of a respectful rebuttal.

I admit: I missed the need to "opt-out" of this tracking when I registered for their meeting. But I really didn't realize that registering for a scientific meeting also required signing (checking?) a contract to not permit tracking when I registered at the time. Who knew?

Now more than ever, I believe the use of our personal data should be on the basis of an “opt-in” policy rather than an “opt-out” policy. Requiring someone the check a box to NOT have something is a pernicious way to illicit approval for an activity. I get that we could “opt-out,” but why should I HAVE to? My privacy (and that of all of the ACC’s membership) should be kept confidential first and foremost, marketing efforts should come second.

The ACC states that they use the RFID data for “two main functions,” (1) meeting planning and (2) to collect “rent” for the use of RFID data by exhibitors:
Exhibitors were able to rent RFID readers from the vendor. They are able to use the data in much the same way as the ACC – to evaluate how effectively their work stations are structured and to improve their offerings to attendees….ACC’s intention was not to create a revenue source by offering attendee data to exhibitors (in fact, only five out of more than 300 exhibiting companies decided to invest in RFID in their booths), but rather to provide exhibitors another resource by which to understand the traffic flow in their booths and to better align their displays with attendees’ needs.
They suggest that the ACC’s “intent” was not to create a revenue source by offering attendee data to exhibitors because only 5 vendors opted to pay for the rental. If so, why not offer the data for free? While the data given was reportedly “the same information that was available on meeting attendees badges in print (name/city/state/institution). No contact information is provided” we really see that other data were also derived from this meeting, and hence distributable:
The attendee then goes to a session on appropriate use of PCI, followed by a session on imaging because he or she is interested in new advances in the intersection of imaging and intervention. Let’s also say that several other people in these sessions followed a similar track. In this scenario, the ACC would receive a report of aggregated data, showing a significant level of physician interest in both imaging and interventional sessions.
If the ACC collected and controlled the data themselves, then the ACC could assure the data’s privacy, but they did not. The ACC contracted with an outside vendor, Alliance Tech, to collect the tracking data and, as such, they have the ultimate control over it. By supplying our demographic information to Alliance Tech, the ACC makes the tracking data useful to vendors and others. What assurance do members have that Alliance Tech has the same good intentions with the data as the ACC? Realize that this same tactic was used by the American Medical Association to provide our prescribing information to Heath Information Organizations with the same "opt-out" requirement.

This is not to say the ACC does not need the revenue. Putting on these meetings is expensive. But we must not lose sight of the real purpose of these meetings, education. Many doctors I know shook their head when the opening plenary session started with a light show and red carpet walk. Is funding of these “shows” why they need to see our personal data? Like it or not, we have to wonder.

Also, RFID data are easily hacked. One only needs to watch the short video of Adam Savage from the popular TV show Mythbusters at the 2010 Hackers Conference to see why the Discovery Channel opted not to air their show on RFID technology to understand how important this data is to businesses.

No doubt the ACC need to find ways to raise funds as pressure mounts on all of us to cut costs in health care. These scientific meetings are a major source of revenue for their organization and they do perform an important advocacy role for cardiologists in Washington. But there is a need to remember why they exist in the first place: to advocate for their physician members while respecting their practice of medicine, not sell us (and our personal data) short to other industry interests.



Anonymous said...

I wonder how the ACC CEO would feel if we took his iPhone and sold the tracking of his activities to the Washington Post to lift the veil on his efforts to solicit funding from big pharma and device companies to support his organization's finances and under the guise of "education".

Anonymous said...

Dr. Wes:
Thank you so much for the time and dedication endeavored in your blog. Often, I agree with you; however, your comment about advocacy is concerning. You may be transferring your own thoughts of what the ACC should be for cardiologists. The following is the ACC mission statement:The mission of the American College of Cardiology is to advocate for quality cardiovascular care—through education, research promotion, development and application of standards and guidelines—and to influence health care policy.

You imply that the ACC advocates for cardiologists. The ACC advocates to influence health care policy. Whatever that means... Does it influence health care policy to benefit cardiologists? Does it advocate to influence to benefit industry? Clearly, advocating for the cardiologist who is directly caring for the patient would make most sense. So why doesn't the mission statement make that crystal clear? Does advocating for the cardiologist include the loss of independence with hospital employee status? Will I be a better advocate as a government employee? Our profession is being turned into a trade union with the current transition of physician employment!