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My Quest to end my Woes ends in a nought Outcome!

If you think there is a Pun in the title, there is – but you have to wait to find out what it is. I was at the Quest Diagnostic labs in Sunnyvale, CA today for a blood draw. What greeted me there – right in front of the receptionist – was a freestanding tablet where I had to ‘Check-In’. I had to enter my name, date of birth and contact phone before the receptionist would even talk to me. Huh? And with a queue of over 10 folks, in a small room and a bright screen, it was easy to look over and see everyone’s details. But that is not the worrying part here. It is after the screen gulps your vitals and says ‘you are all checked in’ is where my anxiety begins. Where is this data being stored? On-site or in the cloud? Who has access to it? Is it encrypted? Yes, HIPAA (in the U.S.) mandates security and privacy – but seeing how the screen was so visible to the entire room, I am not sure about my digital post-processing anymore! As patients, don’t we have the right to know how our data is being stored? Especially as one of their values on the wall proudly states – ‘We value patient confidentiality’ – prove it!.

But this is not about Quest alone. Far from it. Let me prove using another ‘interesting’ healthcare app. This one is called Woebot (my woes begin here – see the pun here). Woebot is a ‘shrink’ app – yes, your personal psycho-therapist on your phone. Their own slogan states ‘I’m ready to listen 24/7, no couches, no meds, no childhood stuff. Just strategies to improve your mood. And the occasional dorky joke’. So far so good. Except, that it gets better over time. With an AI backend (what did you expect), it is able to learn your idiosyncrasies and better engage with you. #Yes. But here is the letdown – their business privacy policy states – ‘We do not encrypt data’. WHAT? All my personal psyche is being recorded but not encrypted. And if that gets breached and my innermost feelings are posted on Facebook – no therapy is going to help my possible suicidal feelings!

Let me round out the trio with another ‘innovative’ company called Outcome Health. Simply put, Outcome Health installs video screens and tablets in doctor’s offices that offer videos and interactive features during patient visits. Outcome Health profits by also offering the screens as an advertising platform to drug companies. Really? Do I want to see ‘ads’ while discussing my urinary tract infection with my physician? (Not to mention the lawsuits against the company for misleading the advertisers – the pharma companies – on the ad volume, but I digress). Yes, the video screen may have the jazzy 3D simulation of my vital parts but I do not want to have a third party ‘ad-placing’ entity in the same room as my doc and me serving up custom ads. What if Alexa is integrated into it tomorrow so I can have my drugs delivered before I get home – all it needs to do is listen to the patient-doc conversation – simple! No – not the Outcome I desire.

This is where healthcare is headed. It has not been as widely discussed or reported as the financial or the media industry with its many breaches, but this is closer than our videos or our money – this is us – you and me, whose life history – physical, mental, substance – is all up for grabs. And that has to stop. It needs to start with patient advocacy and transparency. And stricter regulations that can be tested by the patients. Then my woes will end – but until then, the fight is on.

 

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