Florida physicians with a past they'd just as soon keep to themselves now have reason to worry. As part of a 1997 physician profiling law that took effect this summer, all Florida physicians must be fingerprinted before they get the go-ahead on the renewal of their medical licenses.
The fingerprinting, which costs the physicians $43, gives the FBI the means to run background checks. The law was enacted after officials discovered a physician with an extensive criminal record was practicing medicine in Florida.
In July the Florida Department of Health sent 60,000 fingerprinting cards to physicians and other healthcare providers. Some hospitals have hired off-duty police officers to do fingerprinting on-site. Physicians elsewhere must return the cards themselves or go to a nearby police station to be inked. They have until January 31, 2000, to give the department a finger.
The law brings a whole new meaning to hands-on healthcare.
Phantom Menace. And you thought things were steamy on Capitol Hill during Monica Lewinsky's grand jury testimony. Rep. Tom Coburn, M.D., (R-Okla.), a family practitioner, recently sponsored his fifth annual slide show on safe sex for Capitol Hill interns and staff. Dubbed "STDs, The Phantom Menace," the presentation included a discussion about the emotional and physical consequences of the STD epidemic. About 230 interns and staff attended the event, according to Coburn spokesman John Hart.
A flier promoting the event may have left more than one reader wondering whether to attend; along with the caution that some of the slides would be "graphic," it announced "lunch will be served."
Keeping up with the JAMAs. Not to be outdone by its competitor, the Journal of the American Medical Association, the New England Journal of Medicine recently ousted its longtime editor-in-chief, Jerome Kassirer, M.D.
Kassirer and the New England Journal's owner and publisher, the Massachusetts Medical Society, parted ways in July after Kassirer disagreed with the society's plans to market consumer publications and products using the Journal's name. Kassirer began a sabbatical this month, and his tenure ends officially March 31, 2000. In January of this year, the American Medical Association canned the editor of JAMA after he chose to publish an 8-year-old study that touched on the presidential sex scandal.
Kassirer won't comment on the nature of his disagreement with the publishers, but he does say he has "great concern for the future of the Journal."
To avoid such church vs. state editorial conflicts in the future, the MMS issued an edict last month saying the new editor would have editorial veto power over anything bearing the name or logo of the Journal. But, in a crafty sidestep, the MMS also said products could be identified as "coming from the publishers" of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Y2K terror. If The Blair Witch Project didn't scare you, a more serious dose of fright may be required. Here's one ghastly thought: It's already too late to prevent the terrible things expected at midnight as January 2000 is ushered in.
It's not just the anticipated computer-generated blips that are likely to wreak havoc; it's also the possibility that hackers may view the end of the millennium as an opportunity for the perfect lark.
"Real viruses are going to start at midnight, so that (the troublemakers) can have the fun of watching the malicious mischief they have created," says Timothy Lyons, senior management consultant with Southfield, Mich.-based Superior Consultant Co.
And to make matters a bit worse, because simultaneous computer failures are expected, one glitch may trigger others, creating results no one can predict. A few possibilities: Failing computers could block availability of water and electricity, thwart delivery of medical supplies, trigger security alarms and corrupt research data. (Think about the fallout from the recent power failures in New York and then try to get your mind around this.)
So, should we just throw up our hands? "No!" Lyons told attendees at the Ojai, Calif., meeting of the Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems in late July. Lyons suggested the answer lies in contingency plans. Get those plans out and dust them off, he said. "You may find they were designed to help a system that was replaced three years ago."