Archive for August, 2009

Privacy and the Pharmacy

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

The sign displayed at the pharmacy looked reassuring: “Due to privacy concerns we are unable to wait on you while you are using a celllular phone.  Please finish any conversations before approaching the pharmacy counter.” The question is, “Whose privacy?” Most people think their name, address, uniques prescription information, doctor’s name, and their Social Security number, among other data held by their pharmacist, are in fact privately protected information. Think again. These valuable commodities are still being bought and sold, usually without the patient’s knowledge or permission, in an opaque marketplace, where advertisers, drug companies and who-knows-who-else, make money off your imprint.

Enacted in February, the Federal Stimulus law prohibits the sale of personal health information with a few exceptions for research and public health measures.  It also, according to the New York Times, tightens rules for telling patients when hackers or health workers have stolen their Social Security numbers. Still, the game goes on. Tracking prescriptions has been a big business for many years. Researchers say that analyzing information from thousands of patients helps identify potentially dangerous drug side effects.  So theoretically the data is stripped of all patient identity. Yet several companies have been accused in lawsuits of buying and selling personal medical data. Some of these companies are drugstore chains like Walgreens and CVS Caremark, as well as IMS Health, and Verispan. The latter two companies are data miners who claim to “de-identigy patient information” for research purposes.  IMS claims to use multiple encryption to protect privacy.  Their income has dropped almost 11% from over $1 billion year ago, but their spokesman said he did not expect privacy issues to affect their business. Enforcement actions by Health and Human Services against health plans, care providers, pharmacies, and others to protect patient’s privacy rose from 200 in 2003  to over 2, 100 in 2008.

Texting and Driving

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

Thanks to our marvelous new world of hand-held electronic devices like a Blackberry or cell phone, we can escape the painful boredom of self-awareness from wherever we sit, stand walk or ride. If it’s still too lonely in the wireless ocean of the Intenet, we can always reach out and touch someone-anyone we choose, by voice or text, sight or sound.

Driver distractions have always been the major cause of road accidents. Thanks to the world of the hand-held, our sources of distraction have metastasized, stealing our attention endlessly and dangerously.

A new poll by the AAA Foundation of Traffic safety showed that almost 90% of Americans regarded texting or talking while driving as a “very serious” safety hazard.” Yet we do it anyway with one out of five drivers admitting it, half of them between the ages of 16 to 24.

It’s not surprising that we have no definitive figures on how many people are killed or injured each year because a driver was talking or texting on the phone. Law enforcement records are certainly understated because they rely mostly on self-reporting, and drivers are not likely to admit to texting or talking prior to an accident.

The most effective answer to this problem is obviously to pass and enforce anti-texting/talking legislation, (which has already been done in a dozen states, including California). This is the most effective way to ensure that the millions of people who know better will be less likely to talk or text while driving.  Four U.S. Senators introduced legislation this week that would withhold 10%-25% of federal highway funds from states that refuse to prohibit text messaging by drivers of motor vehicles, trucks and mass-transit buses and light rail (recall the recent fatal rail crash in Los Angeles).  36 states have no such laws at present.

A Virginia Tech study showed that truckers or drivers even reaching for a device have six times the risk of ending up in a collision. Truckers increase the chance of an accident 23 times while texting. Less than 3-5 seconds attention to your hand-held can result in an accident. When you’re yakking on the phone you achieve the risk rate of a drunken driver.

It’s simple math.  Going 30 miles an hour, you travel 44 feet in one second.