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Bell

Column: Health Privacy Needs to Be a Priority

My column in Tuesday’s The StarPhoenix

Two seemingly unrelated stories that came out recently are more connected than we realize.

Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign hit full speed last week. The campaign is designed to raise awareness about mental health in Canada, and Feb. 12 brought a full-court press of media to raise awareness across the country.

And in a week when we were supposed to be more open than ever about mental illness, we also had the story about employees at the Regina Qu’Appelle Regional Health Authority (RQRHA) snooping into people’s confidential health records and in one case, altering information.

The reason Bell is trying to raise awareness about mental health is the stigma that’s still attached to it. Despite advocates such as the late journalist Mike Wallace and TSN host Michael Landsberg talking openly about their battles with depression, mental health conditions are something that many fear and others are reluctant to get treatment for.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada talks about stigma existing even among doctors – the same health professionals to whom sufferers are referred initially when they have problems. Progress is being made on removing the stigma, but there’s a long way to go. For those seeking treatment, it can be a daunting task and one that many people choose to do privately.

This is why the news out of Regina about health region staff and the privacy commissioner’s report about the medical record breaches are so discouraging.

In Saskatchewan, our health records are protected by the Health Information Privacy Act. HIPA’s stated goal is to improve the privacy of people’s health information while ensuring that enough is accessible to provide health services.

Yet at the RQRHA, there appeared to be a culture in some departments of looking at anyone’s health records.

As one staff member said during the investigation, “Everyone is doing it.”

Privacy commissioner Gary Dickson’s report calls out the Regina health authority but mentions other privacy breaches in health districts across the province. He refers to a “culture of entitlement” among employees of health regions who feel that they are allowed to look at anyone’s files.

So back to Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign. It encourages Canadians to speak out about mental illness, but then we learn that if we do seek help, it could be read and shared by those who have no right to see that information.

No wonder that Diane Aldridge, director of compliance for the privacy commission, told the CBC: “It’s about patient confidence, not only in the electronic health record but in the system itself.”

This isn’t just about mental health. It’s also about the loss of the confidence we all have when we go for treatment that our treatment will remain confidential.

The HIPA violations and Dickson’s report are serious enough that something needs to be done. Yet the report notes over and over that recommendations aren’t being followed. Over the decade that HIPA has been in place, not a single charge has been laid over a violation of it.

What’s the point of bringing in a privacy act if no one is going to enforce it or care? If we want to get serious about treatment of mental health or other illnesses that carry a stigma, then we need to get serious about protecting the records of people who need help.

It will take money to upgrade legacy computer networks and build the systems that are common among organizations that actually do protect our personal information. It will also take the political will to strongly punish those who break confidentiality agreements.

Dickson pointed out that the risk of job loss wasn’t enough to deter staff from snooping in and altering personal health records.

If firing or suspension isn’t working, perhaps it will take the year-long jail sentence for offenders that’s allowed in HIPA provisions.

It’s also going to take someone asking some really tough questions about why people who have no reason to access files are allowed to do it. Confidentiality is more than an agreement staff sign – and apparently ignore. It is protecting the information so that it can’t be viewed in the first place.

If the “trustees” of the system in our health regions can’t get this right, we need someone else to take leadership and ensure our personal information is safe.

Bell suggests Let’s Talk, but let’s also make sure that for those who want it to be, it’s a private conversation.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix 

Sending SMS Messages via the web

I don’t always feel like reading for my cell phone every time I want to send a text message.  I have a bunch of these links bookmarked but I decided to post them here in case you didn’t know you could send a txt message via a computer. (Note: the recipient might get charged, of course, depending on their specific plan)

E-mail to text

There are some e-mail to text services, but the recipient usually has to have signed up and paid for this service, unlike the web forms above that are free:

[10digitnumber]@txt.bell.ca (Bell and Solo)
[10digitnumber]@pcs.rogers.com
[10digitnumber]@fido.ca
[10digitnumber]@msg.telus.com
[10digitnumber]@vmobile.ca (Virgin Mobile)
[10digitnumber]@mobiletxt.ca (PC Mobile)
[10digitnumber]@msg.koodomobile.com
[10digitnumber]@sms.sasktel.com and [10digitnumber]@pcs.sasktelmobility.com
[10digitnumber]@text.mts.net (MTS Allstream Inc./ Manitoba Telecom Services Inc.)

Note some providers (such as Fido) are forcing the recipient to pay an extra monthly fee in order to receive e-mail to text messages.

LG Bliss Review

LG Bliss cell phone

I was reading a couple of reviews for the LG Bliss and while I was okay with my Samsung Link, I would really liked a better web browser and some more app options.  Wendy went out and bought me one and I have had it for the last week.  Here are the pros of the phone.

  • Decent web browser.  Not as good as the iPhone’s but decent.  I can use Gmail’s text based or regular mobile interface as well as Google Calendar.  It is exponentially faster than the Samsung Link’s browser and hey, it actually renders websites properly.
  • The touch keyboard isn’t that bad.  After a week of using it, I have become fonder of it and faster using it than I was at the start of the week.  It is just something to get used to but is quite usable.
  • 2 megapixel camera.  While I won’t be printing off a bunch of photos taken with it, it is good enough to upload to Flickr.
  • Virgin Mobile only charges $10/month for unlimited web surfing.  That’s a great, great deal.  With the speed of the browser, it’s a service that I will be using a lot more rather than reaching for my iPod Touch.
  • The speaker phone is quite a bit louder than my Samsung Link.  I can toss it on the passenger seat and actually drive while having a conversation which is useful when I forget to grab my Bluetooth earpiece.

Cons

  • While it has a decent text messaging inbox, it doesn’t handle e-mail which I was sad about.  The inbox is so well designed that pop3 or IMAP capability would be amazing.
  • While Google java apps install, they won’t work because of the touch screen.  Quite annoying and the phone would go from good to amazing if it worked with Google apps.
  • I miss the “recently texted” list that the Samsung Link has.  It’s a great way to keep those that I am in constant contact with in easy reach. 

Overall, it’s not a smartphone and if I was RIM, I wouldn’t be that worried that it was going to eat away Blackberry marketshare but it’s cheap ($119 with no contract), works well as a cell phone, and pretty good as a digital media and web browsing device.  If you are a Bell, Virgin Mobile, or SaskTel customer, you may want to check it out.  As for the Samsung Link, it’s a great texting phone, has the Virgin Email App installed, is a great price ($69.99) but doesn’t get along that well with the web.  In the end, it kind of comes down to which you care about more, the web or email but both are good phones.  Wendy has a Samsung Link and I am happy with the LG Bliss… we don’t have any regrets with either purchase.

Best Pay As You Go Network?

I have been a long time SaskTel customer since Motorola came out with those massive flip phones back in the mid 90s.  I used SaskTel because of the coverage between here and Spiritwood which when you are driving that road 100 times a year you want good coverage.

After I quit Spiritwood, I didn’t have the need for a cell phone nearly as much as I used to and eventually I realized I was paying for a cell phone that I went months without using.  Finally we went to pay as you go cell phones.  A $25 top up would out last the three months it was good for.  In the end I was using about $7 of cell phone a month.

I am too old to text message, I don’t watch video on my phone, and I don’t need a smart phone.

We haven’t done that much traveling out of province the last couple of years by car and since we plan to travel to Edmonton over Easter break and then Calgary later this summer, I started to wonder if I need a cell phone that will work out of province.  I would prefer to stay prepaid if I could but if you have any thoughts on Rogers vs. Fido vs. Virgin vs. Bell, let me know in the comments.