I'm all for saving money and making things easier, at least when it doesn't publicize my Dr's finding from my latest physical.
M. Eric Johnson who is the director of the Center for Digital Strategies at Dartmouth College discovered a number of medical records available for public view during a two week study he completed in January for the Department of Homeland Security. Amazingly these files were available for the taking on peer-to-peer file sharing networks you and I would visit to download our favorite song.
President Obama signed into law the economic stimulus package which set aside $19 billion to help develop a nationwide health information network that will make it possible for all Americans to have an electronic health record within the next five years. The stimulus package contained some specific information on how the security of said network needs to be tightened. From time to time I remember hearing reports that classified information has been stolen from the Pentagon via computer hacking so we might have good reason to be concerned over the security of our medical and personal information.
The biggest cause of sensitive information becoming public is truly something the majority of us see as innocent behavior. Most of us have put on headphones while at work and some of us have even really wanted to hear a certain song so we install a file sharing program so that we can download the latest hit for free. We're not all computer gurus. We understand how to use them and do what we need or want to do, but do we all know that a program like that basically makes everything on our hard drive available to the other users of that program? No.
In a specific case, Johnson discovered the records of 20,000 patients on a peer-to-peer file sharing network. The information he was able to find included: Social Security numbers, names, insurance carriers, and diagnosis codes. A sample of the diagnosis codes that were discovered were related to AIDS, cancer, and mental illness. This is not the type of information you or I would like to have available to just about anybody.
As we move further into a technological world we need to do some serious weighing of the pros and cons. The scope of electronic health records is to streamline, save money, and make administration tasks easier. Is all that worth it if your neighbor or boss now knows that you have a brain tumor?
CCH Chicago Bureau, March 5, 2009