Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Are You Who You Say You Are?

“Why, with all this high tech hospital information system available at our institution, do I need to go to Central Registration before I go to Radiology get a chest x-ray, and then repeat the process when I get to the Department of Radiology?” said the patient. “It’s so inefficient and I have to walk all over the hospital! They’ve already got all that information on me on their database. Geeez!”

And therein lays the perplexing problem for today’s health care industry. Are you really who you say you are? Can we really assure that those test results REALLY belong to you? Are YOU really the one who needs their right lower extremity amputated, as the pathology report (tied to your identity), suggests? Check and recheck. Take a “time-out” before every operation. Read back the serial numbers on every bag of blood. Screw this up and the patient buys it! Screw this up and we won’t get paid! Please re-check! Then check again.

So it should come as no surprise that we read this report of Hackensack Medical Center, in collaboration with Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield, placing RFID tags made by VeriChip Corporation in 280 patient “volunteers” so the ER can pull up their records “as if they couldn’t communicate.” And why, pray tell, are we doing this? To avoid medical errors, so they say. To get paid faster, I say. And probably for bragging rights as winner of the 100-most Wired Hospitals ranking.

Things are moving so fast with this technology. Not only will you be able to be tracked using a simple numeric identifier, but new implanted tags capable of storing lots more information became a reality this week: like your history and physical, drug lists, blood type, relatives, smoking history, address, employer, and your credit card information. It’ll be billed as “convenience,” “safety,” “security.” But it’s going to happen. Slowly at first with your pets. Then with “early adopters” and “geeks.” Then your confused mother. Then you.

After all, safety matters. Just check.



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