This article discusses the new technologies available for doctors and patients to communicate electronically, dubbed e-Care. I believe that this technology can change the world for the better. Monitoring medicine intake, sensors that can detect for falls, using the Internet to communicate with patients, all of these will allow for doctors to better monitor patients and do so in a cheaper and more convenient manner. Using technology to make life better is the future. Unlike some people who fear technology intruding into their life, I welcome it. What I fear is the way Government will use the technology.
Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, has discussed how his health insurance plan includes an email option. This option allowed him to communicate via email with his doctor to diagnose and treat small ailments. This sounds great. No driving to the doctor while sick, or even worse siting in a waiting room with a bunch of people who are more sick than you while waiting for the doctor. My problem is this: according to the 11th Circuit, there is no expectation of privacy in sent email. What does that mean to non-legal types? It means that the police can read your emails sent to your doctor without a warrant. Maybe email sent to a doctor would be treated differently by the court, but who knows. Right now, courts are still unsure of what gets 4th Amendment protection when it comes to electronic communications. Until this issue is sorted out, I don’t want my medical information being discussed via email.
A quick tangent about “reasonable expectation of privacy”. That language is nowhere in the 4th Amendment. The 4th Amendment guarantees the right to be free from searches and seizures without a warrant. The courts then added an exception to things that are in the public view. For example, a police officer won’t have to get a warrant to search the contents of my blog because this blog is visible to the public. This exception made sense. But like all exceptions, its scope began to creep. Shortly thereafter bank records and cell-phone records were no longer protected by the 4th Amendment. Why? Because apparently you don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in those things. (Hey, don’t get mad at me. I don’t make the law, I just talk about it.) Now some people don’t even have a reasonable expectation of privacy in emails that are stored on their own email servers. The Supreme Court needs to rein in this exception. If the police can’t see the information without having to ask someone else to give it to them, then it should not be considered in the public view, there is an expectation of privacy, and a warrant is needed to search it.
The other worry I have is that the information recorded will be used against patients. Most new cars have a black box that records driving information. After a crash, the insurance companies and police are scrambling to get that information. The black box in the car was paid for by the owner. Yet after a crash, that information is taken from the owner and used against him. Now imagine that same scenario in a health care situation with the insurance company knowing every thing that you did. Did you follow the doctors orders exactly? The insurance company would know. Maybe it would adjust your premiums based on how well you follow directions. Or maybe it will decide what care to cover based on how well you followed doctor’s orders.
E-Care is coming. There is nothing anyone can do stop it, nor should they. People should do their best to make sure that before these new rules and regulations are put in place, the Government has implemented adequate privacy protections. The problem, of course, is what they put in place now can be taken away in the future. Until then, I suggest wearing two hospital gowns (one open in the front, the other in the back) to protect your privacy. Unless, of course, you like the exposure.