Will health industry be infected by Y2K bug?
March 2, 1999
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.
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.
Y2K risks noted in Senate report out today
Sen. Robert Bennett's home page
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