Breach of Personal Healthcare Information at Anthem.

Healthcare data unchained!

We often hear the aphorism, “Anything put on the internet, stays on the internet.” I suggest a corollary, “Anything put on a computer can be retrieved by a determined inquisitor.” So it is even for the most intimate of personally identifiable information – healthcare records. Given massive nationwide efforts to digitize our healthcare encounters, and given the frequency with which those digits are shared among insurers, contractors, researchers, public health officials, health information exchanges, pharmaceutical companies, healthcare providers, and the host of other interested parties who claim a legitimate interest, it is inevitable that data will go astray and be misused – illegally or inappropriately! It is said of computer hard-drives that one does not ask if a failure will occur, but when. I maintain that the same dictum holds true of personal health information. If computer-wielding crooks can steal from banks (which we assume use the highest degree of on-line and network protection), how impregnable is the healthcare industry? Apparently not so much.

Big data-hack at Anthem.
Earlier this month, health-insurer behemoth Anthem announced that the personal healthcare and credit card information of as many as 80 million of its customers may have been compromised. A secondary wave of attacks is already occurring as scammers send email warnings pretending to be from Anthem or credit-protection companies seeking to extract even more personal information from frightened Anthem customers. The Anthem breach strikes close to home. At last week’s UofL board of Trustees meeting, it was announced that some 5700 UofL employees might be on the Anthem list. I may be one of them. Not a good feeling. I feel violated enough when my personal healthcare information is being used to target me with marketing propaganda cloaked as important medical information. Having the same information in the hands of bona fide crooks gives me the willies. Continue reading “Breach of Personal Healthcare Information at Anthem.”

Rocky Rollout of Sunshine Act— The Open Payments Program for Physicians.

Another Accountable Care Act initiative with website problems!

For many years now, many public policy concerns have been expressed about the huge amounts of money that pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers give directly to physicians and academic medical centers. An old drug detail-man in Kentucky once told me his company gave Cadillacs to the highest prescribers of his drugs. I doubt that things are that blatant anymore, but so much money flows into individual and departmental pockets that it is difficult to assemble members for expert panels of the FDA, CDC, or other policymaking organizations who are not receiving money from drug and device makers. Full disclosure was supposed to solve the problem, but that does not work. The Open Payments initiative is part of a larger movement for greater transparency and accountability. I plan to write more about this, including my own experience over the years interacting with Pig Pharma and Big Devices.

Continue reading “Rocky Rollout of Sunshine Act— The Open Payments Program for Physicians.”

Objects Accidentally Left in the Body After Surgery in Kentucky

retained-itemRetained surgical objects:  A useful marker of hospital quality and safety?

A few weeks ago, the national newspaper, “USA Today,” reprinted a Courier-Journal exclusive by Andrew Wolfson about the phenomena of “angioplasty-abuse” prompted by a Kentucky lawsuit but increasingly evident nationwide. This week, the C-J returned the favor by running a shorter version of a piece by Peter Eisler of USA Today about “retained surgical items,” that is, the accidental leaving of foreign objects inside the body after surgery- usually in the abdomen or chest. Everyone has heard stories about surgical sponges or instruments left behind– perhaps to be discovered later when symptoms or complications occur. It is a medical mistake that is never supposed to happen, and a red flag that a hospital or surgical center may not have requisite safety procedures in place. Because of this, the frequency of retained items is included in most of the safety and quality evaluations of hospitals. That is what attracted my attention for this blog. Continue reading “Objects Accidentally Left in the Body After Surgery in Kentucky”

Follow-up on UofL’s Search For a New Partner:

Responses by University of Louisville to questions from potential applicants to its RFP.

On March 9, the University of Louisville released its responses to questions submitted following its pre-submission conference on February 28. Some of these answers clarified questions asked at the conference. An e-mail containing the information was sent to 36 individuals and was posted on the UofL website. Most of the recipients were University of Louisville people, but there were individuals from Norton, Catholic Health Initiatives, Baptist Hospital, Jewish Hospital, Stites & Harbison, Kauffman-Hall, Price-Waterson, Health Management Associates, and yours truly.

A total of 71 questions were responded to, or requested information provided in attachments, but amazingly little was revealed. Eighteen of the questions were dismissed with the equivalent of “read my mind,” “you tell us,” “depends on your proposal,” or “will tell you after we have decided.” Bare-bones information seems to be the rule of thumb. These were not the responses I would have expected from an organization that was seriously soliciting responses from a major-league player. “Brush-offs” is a term that comes involuntarily to my mind as I read the responses. You can judge for yourself. Please tell me in the comments section if I am being unnecessarily harsh. Continue reading “Follow-up on UofL’s Search For a New Partner:”