Weekly roundup: Breaches back in the news

Data breaches are back in the news after a few weeks with no reported incidents. More than 100,000 clients of a home monitoring firm were impacted when a company laptop was stolen from an employee’s car. In Arkansas, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) is notifying approximately 1,500 patients of a medical records breach involving a resident physician who was terminated in 2010.

Not surprisingly, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association found that patients desire granular privacy control over their electronic health information.

The researchers had patients list item by item which EHR contents they were willing to share and with whom. While more than 75 percent of patients were willing to share all of their health information with a primary care provider, they were less likely to want it available to other healthcare providers, such as specialists and pharmacists. Patients with sensitive records were less likely to want their information available to other providers. For instance, 24 percent of those with sensitive records would share all information with a specialist compared with 56 percent of those without sensitive records. Neither subgroup indicated comfort sharing all of their health information with non-providers, such as government agencies or health plans.

I listened to an interesting webinar with Robert J. Szczerba, PhD, director of Lockheed Martin’s global healthcare initiatives, about how safety and efficiency processes used in the defense and aerospace industries could be applied to healthcare.

Aviation checklists came into popular use in the 1930s, said Szczerba. Prior to that, aircraft were fundamentally unsafe. Unfortunately, healthcare’s use of checklists is about 70 years behind aviation. The best explanation for the delay, Szczerba said, is that a pilot has a personal stake in the use of a checklist since he or she would go down with the plane and its passengers.

Simulation is another tool healthcare can borrow from aviation and defense. In aviation, simulation is software-based, while medicine’s simulation is mannequin-based. That results in extremely limited amount and quality of training, he said. Plus, it helps train people for only certain conditions and certain problems.

“In many critical areas, healthcare significantly lags behind other industries,” said Szczerba. For example, healthcare is in the data collection phase of decision support while defense and aerospace have moved from that to information processing. Once data are collected, users can fuse it to determine what’s usable, he said. Data collection is “the first of a necessary sequence of steps that has to happen before you get to intelligent information processing.”

The multiple information systems, monitors and other equipment used in healthcare all need to talk to each other but they don’t, he said. That increases the chances for mistakes. “In defense and aerospace, everything is integrated together and tested in an integrated manner.” That’s one reason the number of plane crashes has decreased but patient safety has not improved.

How do you feel about the level of patient safety at your facility? Please share your experience.

Beth Walsh


Editor, Clinical Innovation + Technology