GE Wants Your Medical Records — on the Internet
The NSA has access to all of our phone conversations and texts. Google and Facebook track everything we do online. Now GE wants to store all of your medical information online. What could possibly go wrong?
A decade and a half ago, when the idea of electronic medical records started to take off, they sounded like a good idea. Technology was still a shiny new toy that we hadn’t gotten bored with. Much of the real work of the world was still done on paper. Electronic medical records promised to give doctors more time with patients by reducing paperwork.
Going digital was supposed to give us easy access to our own records. It was supposed to allow different members of the “healthcare team” to share information — notes, lab results, and even things like X-rays. It was supposed to streamline the whole process so healthcare providers could focus on their real jobs — taking care of patients — rather than acting as insurance clerks.
So far this hasn’t happened. What we have is a hodgepodge of different systems, each with its own proprietary software. The system at Hospital A can’t share information with Hospital B because they’re running different software. Your doctor’s record system can’t talk to the hospital’s computer. And the freestanding radiology center where you had your MRI can’t share their data with anyone electronically. Far from making things easier, the current system has added layers of hassle and hours of extra work to medical practice.
Now General Electric, maker of a great number of pieces of medical machinery like MRIs and ultrasound machines, says they have a solution to the problem. They want to store all of our health data “in the cloud.” If you’re not sure what that means, it’s saving all of your information on an internet-based drive, rather than to the hard drive of your computer.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my medical history on the internet, even if it is supposed to be “secure.”
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…
Of course this is being sold with the “but it’s for your own good” line of reasoning. And on the surface, it does sound like a good idea. It could solve a great many of the issues with the current system.
Since it is internet-based, it would eliminate the problem of having fifty different types of computer systems that can’t talk to each other. All doctors and labs would need is a computer connected to the internet, or even a smartphone. Viewing medical records would be as simple as opening a browser window and typing in an address. Boom! Your latest X-ray right there on the screen, viewable from anywhere in the world. Or your lab results. It could eliminate a lot of duplicate tests, including X-rays, MRIs, and CAT scans.
This cloud-based system could also be used to speed up the time it takes to process things like CT scan images. Right now, it’s possible to turn the data from a CT scan into a 3-D animation. For stroke victims, this could be a lifesaver — the animation could show doctor’s exactly where the blocked blood vessel is, and they could treat the person accordingly. The problem is that stroke victims need to be treated within the first 3 hours or so, and it currently takes about 5 hours to create an animation. The new cloud-based system could do this in as little as 5 minutes. It really does have amazing possibilities.
It also has the potential to make the NSA’s data collection look like child’s play.
When you store stuff “in the cloud,” sometimes it rains
In spite of the possibilities, this whole concept makes me extremely nervous. The potential for abuse is nearly infinite. It seems like every week we read about some new “data breach,” where our personal information has been — oops! — shared without our permission. Sometimes it’s a case of hackers breaking into a company’s system and stealing our credit card information.
Other times a company “accidentally” makes our information public. If you stay abreast of the news, you’ll know this kind of thing happens on a routine basis. What happens when it’s our medical records that are released?
We already have Big Pharma trying to con us into willingly giving up our information. (If you didn’t read my article on Allergan offering a $5 co-pay in return to access to your medical records for the next 10 years, you should.) We have pharmacies and credit card companies tracking wher we take our pills and giving us a “medication compliance” score that works like our credit score.
We have the government building up a DNA database on all of us and tracking whether we got our flu shots. Places like ancestry.com wanting to run genetic tests on our samples so they can sell our information to Big Pharma. What happens when our entire record is only a hacked password away from anyone who wants to use it? Or worse, is this an effort by Big Government, Big Medicine, and Big Pharma to do what they’ve wanted to do for years? That is — tag us, track us, sell us their pills, and punish us if we don’t take them?
Big Insurance has a big finger in this pie too. According to GE Healthcare, one way this cloud-based system could be used is
wellness management, helping doctors and patients collaborate to proactively monitor their wellbeing. The customers could be healthcare systems as well as insurers.
My question is, “Who’s REALLY going to be monitoring our well being?” GE says by the end of the decade — a mere 4 years from now — all health data will be stored in the cloud. I think when that day comes, we will have lost any shred of medical privacy we might still have.
What can you do?
Not a lot. Simply be aware that this is coming down the pipe, and stay tuned as we find out more about it.
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