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Australia considers huge fines for EHR snooping

How’s this for a deterrent against unauthorized snooping into patient EHRs? Australian Health Minister Nicola Roxon recently proposed whopping fines of A$13,200 for individuals and A$66,000 for companies that illegally access patient records. The Aussie dollar is nearly on par with the greenback these days, so the numbers are virtually equal when you convert to U.S. currency. That’s a lot of money.

Now, Australia doesn’t actually have much in the way of EHRs just yet, so this is somewhat speculative, but I think those numbers will get people’s attention. At least it will make records clerks think twice before peering at the records of people like Hugh Jackman or Nicole Kidman, right? The celebrity snooping at UCLA Health System cost the organization $865,000 in a legal settlement, and two employees were convicted of crimes, but I’m not aware of an individual being fined more than $2,000.

Would the threat of automatic big-dollar fines prevent unauthorized peeking at EHRs, or are lawsuits like the one the HHS Office for Civil Rights filed against UCLA more of a deterrent?

October 11, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Bet on videoconferencing growth before PHR ubiquity

Last week, I reported in InformationWeek on a Manhattan Research study showing that 7 percent of U.S. physicians were chatting with patients via videoconference. What the research didn’t say is how many consultations actually take place by videoconferencing. My guess is that it’s minuscule, but virtual visits will soon become commonplace.

According to Australian online healthcare community eHealthSpace, technology vendor Siemens is forecasting that 20 percent of all medical consultations in Australia will take place online by 2020. Much of that growth will come from rural and remote areas of a vast country that’s full of remote, sparsely populated areas.

I find that much more believable than another Siemens prediction that 90 percent of Aussies will have a “personally controlled electronic healthcare record” (whatever that means) by 2020. I’m guessing that videoconferencing with doctors will boom long before there’s widespread adoption of any health record controlled by patients.

 

June 3, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

RIP John Glass of CHIK Services

I’ve just learned that John Glass, a founding director of Australian health IT publishing and consulting firm CHIK Services, died last Tuesday as a result of complications from acute leukemia.

According to the company: “He will be greatly remembered for his larger than life persona and tenacious pursuit in bridging the divide between the health and information and communication technology sectors as one of the founding Directors of CHIK Services.

“His interest in furthering the e-health agenda never waned – he was still sending through articles and ideas from his hospital bed little more than a week ago – and he will be enormously missed by all those at CHIK and involved e-health generally.”

I’d like to take this opportunity to extend my condolences to John’s widow, Sally, and the rest of the Chik crew. They are well known even in the U.S. health IT community, as they have made the long trek to America for the annual HIMSS conference for as long as I can remember.

July 4, 2010 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

A better term than PHR?

I’ve occasionally explored some of the nomenclature in health IT, particularly how the term “personal health record” is something distinct from “electronic health record” and how some news reports confuse the two. I’ve been known to laugh at the use of “personal electronic health record,” which I think was an uninformed reporter’s way of saying that each person should have an EHR.

Over the weekend, I saw a distinct term from, I believe, Australia: “patient-controlled health record.” That makes a lot more sense to me and tells me the purpose of the record. A Google search on that term actually turned up a Harvard Medical School meeting on “personally controlled health record infrastructure” target”= new” that took place in 2006 and 2007. But the term seems to have disappeared from the U.S. radar.

June 14, 2010 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Another view on reform—from Oz

I just read another report on healthcare reform. It pointed out some things you probably already know:

  • Healthcare represents a huge and rapidly expanding portion of the economy, and spending continues to outpace inflation.
  • Healthcare is not as safe as it can and should be.
  • Many of the adverse events that result in injury or death are the result of systemic failure rather than human error.
  • Either way, many are entirely preventable.
  • Information technology likely will be a major force for healthcare transformation and improvement.
  • IT can help empower consumers to make better choices about their own care.

The report makes a key point by quoting former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, who said in 2004: “The most remarkable feature of about 21st-century medicine is that we hold it together with 19th-century paperwork.” The thing is, most people reading it have never heard of Thompson, a four-term governor of Wisconsin and a longtime Amtrak board member, since the intended audience is Australian.

“It’s an American problem requiring an American solution,” is how one TV commercial on the cable news channels goes right now. OK, but don’t discount an idea just because it came from beyond our shores.

The report, “A Pebble in the Pond: A Vision for E-Health Enabled Healthcare Transformation,” written by Louise Schaper for Australian health IT research firm CHIK Services contains some interesting arguments that seem relevant to the U.S. market right now, including engagement of public and private stakeholders, capable leadership, defragmentation of information, and, yes, substantial financial investment.

And Schaper even has the wisdom to quote from a story I wrote from MedInfo 2007 in Brisbane, Australia.

January 14, 2009 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Gates Foundation to fund global informatics training

The American Medical Informatics Association will announce Monday that it has received a $1.2 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote health informatics and biomedical education and training worldwide, particularly in developing countries.

This will be the first project of a new program called 20/20, in which the International Medical Informatics Association and its regional affiliates, including AMIA, will attempt to train 20,000 informatics professionals globally by 2020. This is an outgrowth of the AMIA 10×10 program to train 10,000 people in informatics in the U.S. by 2010. IMIA and its partners will discuss details of 20/20 this week at the Wellcome Trust in London.

AMIA will use the Gates Foundation money to develop “scaleable” approaches to e-health education, including a replicable blueprint for training informatics leaders, including physicians, medical records professionals, computer scientists and medical librarians.

“We envision the program will train leaders in low-resource nations by linking them and their institutions to partner institutions affiliated with AMIA to build capacity for managing and improving high-quality, low-cost healthcare in the less-developed economies,” AMIA explains in a statement. AMIA President and CEO Don Detmer, M.D., says this element of 20/20 is aimed at career informaticians “so there won’t be a brain drain.”

Other elements of 20/20 will include individual and degree-track courses at colleges and universities—similar to existing 10×10 curriculum—and skills training, not necessarily specific to medical informatics. “We’re also looking at ways of creating seminars and executive training for people to advocate for this in their home countries,” Detmer says.

Detmer, who is retiring at the end of the year, says the skills training will happen in “bits and bites” to help build incremental capacity in the global e-health workforce. Some planning in this area has been supported by the Rockefeller Foundation as part of a $500,000 grant the charity gave to AMIA to lead one of the Making the eHealth Connection conferences last summer in Bellagio, Italy.

The 20/20 program is chaired by N.T. Cheung, head of IT for the Hong Kong Hospital Authority. Other confirmed or likely participating organizations include the European Federation for Medical Informatics, the Asia Pacific Association for Medical Informatics and the Health Informatics Society of Australia.

December 7, 2008 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Mobile phones to the rescue

Australia 7 News reports that a British surgeon working amidst armed conflict in Congo saved the life of an injured teenager by performing an amputation procedure he had never done before. The surgeon got detailed instructions on the operation from a colleague back in the UK. Via text messaging.

Click here for the story.

December 3, 2008 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Global news

I’ve got some international items on the agenda today:

First off, did anyone catch the big “oops” in Australia this week that knocked out telecommunications services across the state of Queensland? Apparently, a backhoe at a construction site cut a cable that took phone lines down statewide, and a major backup system failed as well. The outage reportedly affected phone calls in and out of a number of regional hospitals, but what was not reported was whether any health IT infrastructure was affected. Perhaps that’s a problem in and of itself.

A couple of weeks ago, a health trust in Scotland had to declare a “data amnesty” to encourage employees to return a misplaced USB drive that reportedly contained the health records of 137 patients. Left unanswered is why the records were not secured before being transferred to the portable drive.

I hopefully will be reporting some international health IT news in a couple of weeks, as I’ve been invited to attend one week of the Rockefeller Foundation‘s “Making the eHealth Connection” conferences in Bellagio, Italy. Consider this a solicitation to editors looking for coverage of EHR and mobile-health issues in developing countries.

July 16, 2008 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Podcast: Robert Kolodner’s MedInfo speech

I guess technically this isn’t really a podcast, or at least not my podcast, since I’m not in this at all. But I’m pretty sure it’s a worldwide Internet exclusive, U.S. National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Dr. Robert Kolodner’s keynote address to the MedInfo 2007 conference (right) on Aug. 23 in Brisbane, Australia. Kolodner’s office even asked me for a copy.

I wanted to plug my recorder into the sound board. The sound techs there told me don’t bother, they’d burn me a CD of the speech. So here you have it, a pristine recording, ripped from that CD. (Please, no flames from BitTorrent purists who believe that there’s no such thing as a “pristine mp3″ file.) I’ve uploaded it in stereo and at 128 kbps, double my normal, mono podcast rate.

I’m not going to bother with detailed podcast info for this one, since it took me almost a month to get this posted in the first place, but I’ll link once again to the story I wrote from Brisbane about Kolodner’s remarks and my interview with him. As a special bonus, I’ve included Kolodner’s presentation slides so you can play along at home.

I’ll also say that the “cuddling a koala” he refers to in the first minute is exactly what I’m doing in the picture in my Sept. 9 post. That was from Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary on the outskirts of Brisbane, if you’re ever in the neighborhood. Good thing Brisbane is in Queensland, because apparently it’s illegal to touch a koala in the Australia state of Victoria.

I have a couple more podcasts in the pipeline, so check this space later this week.

Podcast details: Keynote speech by Dr. Robert Kolodner to MedInfo 2007, Aug. 23, 2007, in Brisbane, Australia. MP3, stereo, 128 kbps, 43.5 MB. Running time 47:30.

Presentation slides (PDF, 2.4 MB)

September 18, 2007 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

MedInfo coverage


After a week of pressing deadlines and erratic sleep courtesy of the worst case of jet lag I’ve ever encountered, I’ve finally collected my thoughts and my wits, and am ready to post a few things from MedInfo 2007 and related conferences.

I thought I’d start by posting links to some of the stories I’ve written from my trip to Australia. I have a couple of podcasts to post as well, plus some more writing to do, but here’s something. I was the only full-time journalist from either North America or Europe at MedInfo, so I’m using that to my advantage. (If there’s any editor out there still interested in coverage, I’m listening. I have nearly 500 poster presentations to draw on, to give you an idea of the breadth of material available.)

From Digital HealthCare & Productivity

“Optimism Marks Opening of the MedInfo 2007″ (Aug. 21)
My report of the keynote address by Sir Muir Gray, NHS director of clinical knowledge.

“A Tale of RHIO Success” (Aug. 21)
I travel all the way to Australia to report on Winona Health in Minnesota.

“Kolodner Says U.S. Will Reach Pres. Bush’s 2014 EHR Goal” (Aug. 28)
My coverage of Dr. Robert Kolodner’s keynote address to MedInfo, with snippets from the interview he gave me.

“Shortage of Health-IT Workers Is Limiting Progress” (Aug. 28)
News of a collaboration between the International Medical Informatics Association and the World Health Organization, based on my interview with officials of both organizations and their presentations to MedInfo.

“Grappling with the Softer Side of Health-IT” (Sept. 5)
This is another exclusive: my coverage of the ITHC 2007: the Third International Conference on Information Technology in Health Care: Socio-technical
Approaches
, a small, focused meeting held in Sydney a week after MedInfo.

“Reporter’s Notebook: From the Land Down Under” (Sept. 5)
Exactly what it sounds like.

From E-Health Insider and EHealth Europe

“IMIA and WHO to ‘revitalise relationships’” (Aug. 23)
Another take, in more depth, of the IMIA-WHO collaboraton.

“Wireless solutions simplify communication” (Aug. 31)
I look at creative applications of wireless technology in Denmark and Austria.

September 9, 2007 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.