Monday, March 10, 2008

My Way

I wanted to say something about Google Health.
I have been watching for some time the various schemes to centralize healthcare records, from Hillary Clinton and Bill Frist's unlikely alliance a couple of years ago to Washington State's efforts (my wife is on the Governor's HISPC Advisory Board, so I have gotten to watch some of the sausage-making close up) and in general I think that it is not only a good idea in theory but that there is a certain practical inevitablity to it.
Still, when prominent health organizations start considering placing PHI in the hands of the world's largest search engine company, I am a little less enthusiastic. For starters there is no accountibilty at this point. Google is certainly not a covered entity and for all of their massive and admirable ability to keep, sort and provide information to millions of users across the globe they, like any other company who does business internationally are susceptable to the whims of the governments of the countries where they do business.
Is my PHI a matter of national security? Of course not, and mine is especially boring; I have enjoyed good health for decades and have suffered from none of the things that might be of concern to anyone. But different countries have different privacy standards, different countries have different legal systems, and I have at least the expectation of privacy, as flimsy as that might be.
As far as I am concerned, the song goes like this: "Not covered by HIPAA? Then you don't get my PHI." Period.

Time After Time

Its about time:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Federal prosecutors have accused an Oklahoma City woman of violating a federal health privacy law as part of an identity theft scheme.

An indictment alleges Leslie A. Howell violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma spokesman Bob Troester says the Feb. 15 indictment was the first in the district for violating HIPAA.

First in the district? More like nearly the first in the country! Is this part of a new pattern, or just another case of an acorn dropping into the sleeping sow's mouth?

It Wasn't Me

Oh, please...

When Team 4 got certain records, the HIPAA enforcement office was supposed to block out the names of all patients who filed the complaints. But when Team 4's Paul Van Osdol examined the records, he found nine cases where patient names were disclosed. So, it appears the people in charge of enforcing the medical privacy law failed to follow their own rules.

Teresa Dimichelle is one of those patients whose names were disclosed. She agreed to talk about it.

Van Osdol: "The fact that the government failed to protect you, the same government agency that enforces HIPAA laws, what does that tell you?"

Dimichelle: "That it's all a joke to them. It was about my health care and the way I was being treated. I didn't think it needed go to whoever, Joe Schmoe down the street."

"That's alarming, and you should be commended for doing that request and uncovering that, because that's something we definitely need to address," said Altmire.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services said its disclosure of patient names is not a violation of HIPAA. That's because the government agency is not covered by the HIPAA law.

No, not a violation of HIPAA, just a violation of at least one other privacy law, and common sense, common decency, and especially the public's ability to swallow the lame excuse.