Loyalty cards - the new early warning system?
(Photo by Karen Bryan on flickr, Help Me to Save)

Loyalty cards - the new early warning system?

Early diagnosis in many diseases can be the difference between life or death. Could useful data come from an unexpected source?

Summary: Using loyalty card data on over-the-counter (OTC) medicine purchases could help detect ovarian cancer earlier, according to a study led by Imperial College London. The study of almost 300 women found that women who were subsequently diagnosed with ovarian cancer, made more purchases of indigestion and pain medication, compared to women who did not have the disease. Interestingly this change in purchasing behaviour was seen as much as eight months before diagnosis. Small sample size so more research needed.

Why this is important: Early detection in many diseases can be the difference between a reassuring or devastating prognosis.

The big theme: Healthcare systems are facing ongoing pressure from growing populations, an ever changing landscape of disease and funding pressures. As severity of symptoms or later stages of conditions present themselves, there is an increase in costs and resources required to treat. If we can detect conditions in an earlier stage, then resources required to treat can be reduced and freed up for other cases. Another theme discussed here is the benefits of alternative data in improving decision-making.

The details

Summary of a story from Imperial College London

A study led by Dr James Flanagan from Imperial College's department of Surgery & Cancer, examined up to six years of loyalty card data from two UK based high street retailers for monthly purchases of pain and indigestion medications (such as antacids) in 273 women prior to testing for ovarian cancer.  Just over half were diagnosed with ovarian cancer within a two year period of them being recruited for the study; the remainder showed no signs of ovarian cancer and were thus used as a control group. The results showed a difference in purchases of pain and indigestion medications among women with and without ovarian cancer up to 8 months before diagnosis.

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