Blogger: Kevin Kampman
When I was very young, I remember coming home from church on Sundays with my father the car salesman. We would drive by the car lot and he’d stop to write down the license plate numbers of people who were there looking at cars. When I asked him why, he said that he would go to the police department and find out who they were. It turns out this was a major source of leads for him, and he was quite successful at following up.
As it turns out, use of license information for personal purposes went out of favor by the time I was married (30 odd years ago). During a stint as a councilman in an Ohio village, I would “run radar” with the local police office on weekends. When I asked if he could check out who owned a certain car, he was adamant that that was not acceptable to run license checks for individuals.
And so, I believed that public servants had the best interests of the taxpayer and consumer in mind by protecting public records from misuse. At least, until Joe the Plumber (remember, Joe Wurtzelbacher?) came along. It turns out that if you become a celebrity, otherwise private information is fair game.
Last week, Helen Jones-Kelley, director of the State of Ohio’s Department of Jobs and Family Services indicated that whenever someone in Ohio draws media attention to themselves, it’s routine to conduct a background check. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland placed Jones-Kelley on administrative leave, not because of the privacy implications, but the suspicion that a state owned computer or e-mail account was used for political fundraising. Sounds like its time to scratch government as a trusted custodian of public records, at least in Ohio.
So, who CAN we trust? It turns out that last week was a bad one for privacy in the health care industry. Express Scripts, a St. Louis-based pharmaceutical provider, apparently had a number of patient records stolen by an extortionist. Are other large pharmacies far behind? Are our prescription records just waiting to be compromised?
Recently I was at a pharmacy and noticed an interesting product, on the counter just above the prophylactics (hold that thought). A USB memory stick was for sale in association with a service called MedicKey. This company helps you to collect all of your medical records in one place, then carry it around on a portable device. Of course, you pay them to gather the data for you. But, it IS possible. In the case of companies like Wal*Mart, it’s encouraged. Wal*Mart is working with Dossia to provide electronic patient health records to all of its employees, in a manner similar to Google and Microsoft.
What’s coming is exciting and frightening at the same time. Not only are we giving folks options for personal control, we’re also aggregating information into massive targets of opportunity. Given the track records of government and commercial providers, a lot of information is going to be misused and stolen before we establish sufficient controls to protect us from politicians, thieves, and the well-meaning. Just because we don’t know what we don’t know doesn’t mean we should move health records to the control of the patient. I’m not worried about the memory sticks as much as I am the people who prepare them. What kinds of protection do THEY offer?