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Technology is a good thing; snooping, radiation overexposure are not
When the plot is revealed, one of the aliens brands humans as desperate savages with a compulsion to know the private affairs of everyone else.
In some modest respects, that machine now exists. It's called a computer. And in healthcare, it shares a quality with nuclear energy—powerful technology that can be used for the benefit or harm of people.
One of the latest examples of the latter occurred in Houston when a resident assigned to Ben Taub General Hospital was shot in a grocery store parking lot. Sources told the Houston Chronicle that employees of the Harris County Hospital District had looked at the resident's medical records. Some
16 people were fired, including managers, nurses, clerks and other employees. And the paper reported that employees of the resident's medical college not involved in her care may have peeked at the records.
And this is only the latest in a long string of transgressions involving celebrities and lesser figures whose medical privacy has been violated by professionals who are supposed to protect that privacy. Gross misconduct prompted California to enact tough rules against such snooping.
Almost as bad as the willful violations are the numerous examples of near-criminal negligence in the handling of patient information. As reporter Joseph Conn noted in our Dec. 7 issue (p. 10), security breaches seem to be multiplying. It's hard to say which of two explanations is worse: that the breaches actually are increasing or that a new notification law has simply brought more to light.
If healthcare executives don't act decisively to stop these privacy abuses, we won't need space aliens to facilitate the destruction of trust between patients and providers.
Again, this was only one of a series of radiation mishaps reported in the past two years. Some of the most prominent cases occurred in California, where hospitals administered overdoses of radiation to patients receiving CT scans. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles said some patients received up to eight times the normal dose because of computer error. At Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata, a technician conducted a CT scan on a toddler for more than an hour.
The Food and Drug Administration has issued a nationwide caution and urged hospitals across the country to review patients who have received CT percussion scans, check the dosages and use care in the future.
These developments underscore the importance of the much-maligned and politicized recommendations on mammograms issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. The advisory panel urged a more conservative approach to the use of such scans for most women. It was concerned about several potential problems, including excessive exposure to radiation. Although the task force considered that risk smaller than others, it was still significant. Recent events suggest that concerns over excessive radiation are not just the stuff of science fiction.
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