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Will health industry be infected by Y2K bug?

A congressional report says 90 percent of doctors' offices haven't adjusted their computer systems for the advent of 2000

A nurse talks to CNN's Eileen O'Connor about her Y2K fears
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CNN interviews Sen. Robert Bennett, who chairs the Y2K Special Committee
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March 2, 1999
Web posted at: 12:35 p.m. EDT (1235 GMT)

In this story:

Congressional action?


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The nation's health care industry is not prepared for the Y2K bug, the chairman of the Senate's Y2K special committee said Tuesday. And that is a major concern for senators looking at how well the government is ready to deal with potential computer problems when calendar pages flip over to the year 2000.

"(The health care industry) is terribly fragmented. That means there are a lot of little tiny pieces," said Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah. "Our surveys indicate there are a number of doctors' offices and smaller hospitals that are probably not going to be ready if they don't put on a real push between now and the end of the year."

Those concerns go beyond the Capitol. Laurene West, a nurse and computer expert, wants a health care contingency plan for 2000. She fears that computer glitches from old programs that cannot recognize the date will interrupt hospital equipment, doctors' offices, pacemakers and medications.

And prescription drugs are vital to West. Complications from a brain tumor means her life depends on them.

"If I don't have my drugs," she said, "I probably wouldn't make it through March 2000."

West advises stringent preparation -- including stockpiling necessary medications.

"I suggest passing legislation so that health plans could allow one-time exclusion so (patients) could get 90-day supplies," she said.

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    Congressional action?

    She's taken her proposal to Capitol Hill, where an official report has called the health care industry "one of the worst prepared," and carrying "significant potential for harm" when 2000 dawns. The congressional report says 90 percent of doctors' offices are not prepared.

    But the health industry says that's just not true.

    "I think in general we have put into place a lot of contingency plans," industry adviser Daniel Nutkis said. There are "a lot of alternative plans that health care organizations can use."

    John Parker of pharmaceutical giant SmithKline Beecham said patients shouldn't panic over their drugs.

    "The concern is if everybody goes out and stockpiles, then it could in fact create some shortages," he said.

    West calls for government action in spite of the industry assurances that all is well.

    "They should get on TV with someone credible and say, 'We think we may have a problem ... but we're going to teach you how to get through it," she said.

    It's not, West said, about panic -- but rather about preparation.

    Correspondent Eileen O'Connor contributed to this report.

    Countdown to 2000
    Y2K Bug: Millennium Mayhem?

    Year 2000 bug

    Y2K risks noted in Senate report out today
    March 2, 1999
    Y2K threatens federal, state welfare programs
    February 26, 1999
    Time for a check-up: Hospitals screening for Y2K bug
    February 2, 1999
    Y2K bug hits medical devices
    January 12, 1999
    Year 2000 bug could be dangerous for hospitals, experts warn
    August 10, 1998

    Sen. Robert Bennett's home page
    Why Year 2000 Y2K Poses a Risk to Public Health
    Y2K is a life or death issue for health sector - Dallas Business Journal
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