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Computing

Can health care inoculate itself from the Y2K bug?

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March 24, 1999
Web posted at: 10:25 a.m. EST (1525 GMT)

From CNN Correspondent Kate Snow

(CNN) - Almost every aspect of hospital care is dependent on date sensitive computers -- from the machines that help keep people alive to the ones that keep the hospital running.

"That's an area that's tremendously fragmented, very hard to get our arms around, and seems to have serious problems," says Utah Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah. The vulnerability of medical systems to the year 2000 bug is the biggest concern of a special senate Y2K committee that he chairs.

The panel found at least 80 percent of doctor's offices are not prepared, but they say that number is changing daily. According to the Gartner Group research firm, at least one third of hospitals won't be completely ready to fight the millennium bug.

Small community medical facilities are thought to be in the greatest danger of millennium related mix-ups. Experts say they don't have the funds, resources or the expertise to solve their Y2K problems effectively.

Larger hospitals may be in better shape. Saint Joseph's, an acute care specialty hospital in Atlanta says it's ahead of the curve because its focus has been on primary patient care.

Kathie Battillo is the Y2K Coordinator at St. Joseph's. She says many medical devices have time-associated safety features.

"Some of the medical equipment you have to calibrate to make sure it works exactly as it should. What happens is there's a little computer chip in there that will calculate the date and say, 'I was last maintained on February 5, 1998,' so then it will calculate 60 days or 120 days and after that it won't work because it says, 'If you don't adjust me, I'm not going to let this device work.'"

Hospitals also have backup devices and access to uninterrupted power, and most systems can be controlled manually, though staff members aren't used to doing so.

Another concern for hospitals is record keeping. If the Y2K glitch isn't fixed, a child born in 2000 could register as being 100 years old.

Pharmacy records could also be a problem. Some agencies suggest consumers should keep a 90-day supply of medication on hand, but because of restrictions imposed by Health Maintenance Organizations that is not always possible. Drug companies say if people stockpile medication there could be dangerous shortages.

All pharmacies, hospitals and doctor's offices can do for now is take steps to inoculate against the computer bug as they work to maintain human health as well the well-being of their computer systems.



RELATED STORIES:
Will health industry be infected by Y2K bug?
March 2, 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

RELATED SITES:
Gartner Group Research
Health Care Financing Administration
  • Health Care Financing Administration Millenium Project
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