Articles Posted in Patient Privacy

viagra-300x169This fall’s National Football League games will be markedly different in an unexpected way that also offers insight into the nation’s skyrocketing costs of medical care.

The makers of the erectile dysfunction drugs Viagra and Cialis are yanking $50 million in advertising from TV broadcasts of NFL games, their top contact point with male consumers.  Indeed,  the makers of both drugs are going dark with their costly ads across a variety of sports programs, including summer pro golf and tennis.

After billions of dollars in revenues reaped every year for their manufacturers, Viagra and Cialis both are Big Pharma hot shots no longer. They may have erased any remaining decorum on TV over the years with their advertising and marketing hype. But they cannot outrun a typical drug’s economic life cycle. Their patents are expiring, and their makers are trying to figure how best to exploit their profitable, branded drugs when generics—already regulator approved and ready to go—saturate markets and drive prices down, perhaps as early as next year.

acurian-300x175When consumers around the country started getting letters from a company that they had never heard of, inviting them to participate in clinical trials for medical conditions that they hadn’t disclosed to many or didn’t even have, the alarms started to sound, quietly at first but with increasing urgency. Were doctors, hospitals, or other providers breaching medical privacy laws? Had there been a serious but unpublicized leak or unwelcome disclosure of patient data?

Kudos to the information site Buzzfeed for digging in and finding out how Acurian Health, a firm with an address in a rural county outside of Philadelphia, exploits state-of-the-art Internet marketing and data-mining techniques to learn, in creepy fashion, about Americans and their illnesses.

It does this by buying marketing information that a range of companies collect on customers, some of it volunteered and others extracted from data points like zip codes, purchasing patterns, and available demographics: Do you live in an upscale or modest neighborhood? Are you and your neighbors most likely to be highly educated professionals or blue-collar laborers?

elder-abuse-awareness-300x210It’s one of the more disturbing, revolting, and painful health care investigations put out by a news organization in recent times. It’s disheartening but it also demands action: So, what steps will federal, state, and local authorities take now that CNN has reported that thousands of sick, disabled, and defenseless patients, most of them women, have been sexually abused and assaulted in nursing homes in the last decade?

The broadcast network said that data, collected by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Administration for Community Living, show 16,000 sexual abuse complaints have been filed since 2000 over conditions at long-term care facilities (both nursing homes and assisted living facilities). Experts say there may have been more cases because sexual assault and abuse, due to stigmatization, often is un- or under-reported.

CNN, which turned up more than 380 sexual assault allegations in Illinois and more than 250 in Texas between 2013 and 2016, said it had analyzed U.S data in the same period, finding that “the federal government has cited more than 1,000 nursing homes for mishandling or failing to prevent alleged cases of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse at their facilities … And nearly 100 of these facilities have been cited multiple times during the same period.”

spermeggjpgA reported rash of new lawsuits offers a poignant, sadly recurrent reminder: Aspiring parents who rely on commercial sperm banks for critical reproductive tissues must heed an ancient consumer prescription: caveat emptor. The New York Times says litigation, from Florida to California, Canada to the UK, all raises serious questions about the light or nonexistent regulation of assisted reproduction centers and the materials and services they tout. As the Times describes it, the latest suits highlight “claims of deception and negligence, and [add to] an array of challenges beyond the longstanding issue of undetected genetic problems,” in donor sperm.

The sperm banks, the paper notes, stand accused of “careless record-keeping, or mishandling or misappropriation of sperm banked for a client’s personal use. Others say the banks use hyped, misleading descriptions to market their donors.” The Times reports on cases in which banks have given out wrong tissues that may lead to offspring with serious genetic-related conditions, and from donors with bad or difficult histories, including cases in which mothers assert they have learned, post hoc, that they will bear children of a different race.

Regulators exercise minimal oversight over these operations, often mostly to ensure sanitary conditions in storage facilities and steps to try to curb transmission of disease.

ormc_tower_00a_1024_web300x600wHere’s hoping that the mass shooting in Orlando will focus attention on some health care issues that the event flushed into open view:

bloodGay activists and others have denounced anew these restrictions. They say these rules unnecessarily stigmatize members of their community, who were bitterly reminded of them when donors sought to assist the many wounded in the Orlando gay club.

bwhospitalBecause money makes such a difference in health care in the United States, what happens when it’s no object? The results aren’t pretty, a prestigious Boston hospital has found. It rolled out the red carpet and penthouse suites for a Saudi prince who stayed for seven months of therapy for a drug-resistant infection.

His lavish ways, however, ended up tainting the institution’s best practices, resulting in internal and Massachusetts state investigations. The Boston Globe said the episode, in which the unidentified prince and his entourage made unusual care demands and lavished gifts on staff in violation of hospital policies, shows the risks of so-called VIP care.

The paper said the post-mortem of the royal treatment found that: medical staff failed to adhere to best practices in wearing protective gowns when treating the princely patient who found the attire “off-putting” and dirty; nurses and others were accused of mishandling narcotics, giving them to members of the royal entourage and not administering them to the patient himself.

Not all care-giving positions carry high status or lavish compensation. Still, why would anyone take on any health care work lacking basic common sense and the tiniest bit of compassion? That’s what you might be asking after the latest head-shaking reporting about invasions of patients’ privacy: Pro Publica’s Charles Ornstein has found at least three dozen incidents in which nursing home staffers have posted abusive photos of elderly residents on social media.

The aged, sometimes mentally infirm patients were photographed or video-recorded naked or partially so, led to sing or say unacceptable things such as praises for cocaine, and, in some instances, on the receiving end of slaps or other unseemly actions by their caregivers. These images then were shared with others and on social media.

The ghastly incidents sometimes resulted in staffers’ discipline, dismissal, or even criminal charging. But not always — this even though they would seem on their face to be violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the federal patient privacy law that carries civil and criminal penalties.

Corporate wellness programs aren’t new, but their popularity is growing as companies seek ways to minimize spending on health care. But a lot of people within and outside of the health-care system question many of these programs in terms of their real health value, their financial benefit and their potential to invade employee privacy.

One recent commentary on the topic was penned by Al Lewis on the Huffington Post and repurposed on TheDoctorWeighsIn.com. Lewis is the author of “Why Nobody Believes the Numbers,” a critique of workplace wellness programs, and the CEO of a company he says is in a competitive industry. He wants his competitors to implement wellness programs because it will hurt them. As he wrote, “Those competitors will suffer increased healthcare costs, compounded by declines in productivity.”

“Best of all for me, these programs often have a negative impact on employee morale that may lead some of them to quit, thus facilitating our own recruiting efforts. This is especially true for overweight employees, whom wellness vendors really seem to dislike. We, on the other hand, find employee weight makes no difference in either productivity or health spending.”

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal published an unnerving story about what can happen to your sense of security, not to mention your actual financial security, when someone steals your medical information.

“How Identity Theft Sticks YouWith Hospital Bills” (behind The Journal’s paywall) makes clear that medical identity theft is a fast-growing crime thanks to the proliferation of electronic medical records. Most people are aware of data being hacked at insurance companies and health-care facilities. When someone has your health records, insurance information and Social Security number, he or she can use it to get medical care, surgery, prescriptions and medical equipment while pretending to be you.

A sidebar accompanying The Journal story provides some background and offers tips to avoid being the star of that horror story.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a familiar document to anyone who’s had a medical appointment or procedure in the last couple of decades. It defines standards for the use and dissemination of health-care information, and directs how organizations must protect electronic medical records. It’s championed as a protector of privacy rights, but even professionals wrongly use it as almost a code of silence.

As explained by the New York Times, medical providers misuse, abuse and otherwise erect barriers in the name of HIPAA that can have frustrating or harmful consequences for patients.

For example:

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