Get Hip to HIPAA: Hackers Want Your Health Data

I have a question for you. What do hackers want more—your Social Security number or your health information?

If you guessed Social Security, you’re wrong. Here’s another fact I learned by writing fiction. The answer is health data, and criminal hackers are busy stealing it every chance they get.

Despite this alarming trend, there is some protection in place for patient privacy. In 1996, the United States legislature passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act  known as HIPAA. This act provides for data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.

The passage of this act was meant to protect patients’ privacy, but it means nothing to a criminal hacker whose day job is stealing your health data. The law has emerged into greater prominence in recent years with the proliferation of health data breaches caused by cyberattacks and ransomware attacks on health insurers and providers.

Hackers can fetch only around $15 a pop on the web for a Social Security number, but a medical record with personal information attached can go for $60 or more. 

Criminals can use health data to create fake identities that allow them to buy and resell medical equipment or drugs, to file fake claims with insurers, or to file fake tax returns. Hackers will use stolen hospital records for extortion—the patient must pay to keep from having their records sold on the dark web.

One reason health data fetches more dollars is that medical identity theft can go undetected for years. The modern practice of electronically storing medical records rather than using paper charts has resulted in a bonanza for criminal hackers. They can sneak in with a few taps on a keyboard, grab the data, and sneak out without being detected.,

How is this possible? One explanation is that medical facilities and private practices tend to put patient care items first when considering expenditures. If the budget is tight, money is not spent to replace aging computer systems, hire IT consultants, and upgrade security infrastructure. These cost-cutting practices make hackers’ work remarkably easy.

Visit these sites for more complete information on this topic:

https://www.dhcs.ca.gov/formsandpubs/laws/hipaa/Pages/1.00WhatisHIPAA.aspx

https://www.healthit.gov/sites/default/files/YourHealthInformationYourRights_Infographic-Web.pdf\

https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-individuals/guidance-materials-for-consumers/index.html

The security of health data is a recurring theme in the hospital-based Aimee Machado Mystery series published by Camel Press, an imprint of Epicenter Press. Available in print and eBook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and by request at your local bookstore. http://camelpress.com/

Medical Interpreters – Saving Lives

Facts I’ve Learned by Writing Fiction

This post is a result of my research for SPINE DAMAGE, book four in my Aimee Machado Mystery series featuring a hospital librarian with a specialty in forensics. 

Ever wonder what happens when a critically ill or injured patient with no knowledge of the English language arrives in an American hospital’s Emergency Department?

 

In Spine Damage, book four of the Aimee Machado Mystery series, that’s just what occurs at fictional Timbergate Medical Center in Northern California. The incident involves a young Portuguese-speaking man with a potentially fatal gunshot wound to his spine. It also results in a new mystery involving Aimee Machado, our hospital librarian.

The critically injured patient cannot tell his story to his doctors or to the police without the help of an interpreter. Aimee finds help for this fictional patient, but what would happen in real life?

Raise your hand if you speak English, and Portuguese, and if you’re also fluent in medical terminology in both languages. No one? The specialty of Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI) is currently experiencing a 29% growth rate, so if you like languages and you’re seeking a career path, it’s worth a look.

Before we go further, let’s clear up the difference between interpreters and translators. Both require a knowledge of more than one language, and both require skilled specialists, but for different reasons. The most obvious difference is the medium: translators interpret written text; interpreters translate orally.

Authorities in the field agree that expert knowledge of subject matter is equally as important as interpreting experience. When a medical interpreter is involved, the accurate oral exchange of information between health care provider and patient can be crucial. A qualified medical interpreter must have an extensive vocabulary, including medical terminology and an ability to express thoughts concisely in both languages. Beyond that, the interpreter must be familiar with both cultures.

Although the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) does not require that hospitals use certified interpreters, it has clarified the standards for qualified and competent interpreters. Qualifications and competencies can be met in a variety of ways (not simply through certification). Those include:

– Knowledge of medical terminology
– Language Proficiency Testing
– Training in interpretation best practices
– Interpreting experience in a healthcare setting

There are documented cases of patients being saved, or lost, because of the quality of medical interpretation. Who knew that second language we were required to learn in school could someday lead us into a profession that would offer the opportunity to save lives?

For more information on medical interpreters, visit one or more of the following sites:

http://www.certifiedmedicalinterpreters.org/

http://www.imiaweb.org/

https://www.aafp.org/afp/2014/1001/p476.html

http://blog.cyracom.com/joint-commission-standards-healthcare-interpretation

Visit www.sharonstgeorge.com again soon for another  fact I’ve learned while writing SPINE DAMAGE, book 4 in this series.

Books in the hospital-based Aimee Machado Mysteries are published by Camel Press (an imprint of Epicenter Press) and are available for purchase in print and eBook format from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and from your local bookstore.
http://camelpress.com

Child Prodigy: Is Genius an Abnormality?

Welcome to another post on facts I’ve learned by writing fiction.

While researching the third book in my Aimee Machado Mystery series, I came across many fascinating examples of child prodigies and their stories. The plot of Breach of Ethics centers on the plight of a ten-year-old piano prodigy who suffers a burst appendix. The little girl becomes a patient in the hospital where Aimee works as a forensic librarian and coordinator of Timbergate Medical Center’s Ethics Committee. To avoid spoilers, I won’t reveal more of the plot here.

Among the things I learned about prodigies is that they emerge most often in fields of athletics, mathematics, chess and music. Think Tiger Woods, Stephen Hawking, Bobby Fischer, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Recently, reality television has begun showcasing young prodigies with programs like Little Big Shots, and Genius Junior. But prodigy can come with a downside. “Many gifted kids have A.D.D. or O.C.D. or Asperger’s,” says Veda Kaplinsky of Juilliard, a pre-eminent teacher of young pianists. “Genius is an abnormality and can signal other abnormalities.”

A decade ago, The Big Bang Theory, a scripted television series, introduced us to physicist Dr. Sheldon Cooper. In a spin-off, we now see Young Sheldon as a child prodigy. The success of these two series was followed more recently by Dr. Shaun Murphy in The Good Doctor, on a different network.

In both cases, these characters are brilliant in their respective domains, physics and medicine, but they struggle in other areas. The Shaun Murphy character is written with a diagnosis of autism along with his savant syndrome. And although The Big Bang Theory does not state that Sheldon Cooper is on the autism spectrum, there are viewers who believe his character exhibits some Asperger-like characteristics.

Returning full circle to the musical prodigy in Breach of Ethics, and to musical prodigies in general, there are many amazing examples of these gifted children online. Here’s one site that’s worth a look, and there many others on the topic of child prodigies.

http://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/latest/child-prodigies-video/

The Aimee Machado Mystery series is available in print and e-Book format from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and on request from your local bookstore. Come back soon for another post on facts I’ve learned while writing Spine Damage, book 4 in this series.

HOW TO KEEP VEGAN CHILDREN HEALTHY

 

With this post I’m sharing an another fact I learned by writing fiction. This one is from book three in my Aimee Machado Mystery series featuring a health sciences librarian. The mystery in BREACH OF ETHICS centers around a famous ten-year-old piano prodigy. The young girl falls ill from being restricted to a faulty vegan diet. This leads Aimee to wonder if an ongoing battle for the girl’s custody led to murder. Here’s what I learned by researching story details involving vegan diets for children.

BOOK THREE QUESTION:
Can young children fall ill or even die as a result of a faulty vegan diet?

FACT:  The answer is yes, and a national survey found that nearly 20 percent of people surveyed about knowledge of vegan diets for children were unaware that it was a risk.

A young child restricted to a faulty vegan diet by well-meaning parents who are not sufficiently informed is at risk of failure to thrive and may not grow at a normal rate. Leafy greens are not enough. The child may develop a broad range of health problems due deficiencies in amino acids, calcium, vitamin D, and B12.

Unfortunately for vegan families, B12 is readily available in meat and animal-based foods, but not in a plant-based diet. With malnourishment, there is risk of rickets and even more dire consequences. Lack of B12 can cause brain damage and even heart failure, so vegans must acquire this essential vitamin through fortified foods or supplements.

Although vegan diets are in many respects very healthy, they are more likely to cause nutrition problems for children than for adults. Any family contemplating a vegan lifestyle for young children would be well-advised to consult a qualified nutritionist before beginning.

For information on vegan diets and B12, visit The Vegan Society at: https://tinyurl.com/ya9k3qay

Visit www.sharonstgeorge.com again soon for more facts I’ve learned by writing fiction.

Books in the hospital-based Aimee Machado Mysteries are published by Camel Press (an imprint of Epicenter Press) and are available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from your local bookstore in trade paperback and as ebooks. http://camelpress.com

FACTS I’VE LEARNED BY WRITING FICTION – BOOK TWO

Continuing with the topic from my previous post, I’m sharing more of the facts I’ve learned by writing fiction, and in particular, researching the Aimee Machado Mysteries, featuring a health sciences librarian.

Librarians are trained researchers. If they’re curious, they look things up. Here are facts I came across while my protagonist searched for the solution to the mystery in CHECKED OUT, the second book in the Aimee Machado Mystery series.

BOOK TWO: CHECKED OUT

QUESTION ONE:
How many people in the U.S. get Lyme disease within a given year?

FACT: The Center for Disease Control estimates 300,000 cases per year.

In the U.S., Lyme disease is spread through the bite of a tiny blacklegged tick.

Most infections occur in three principal areas:

  • Northeast and mid-Atlantic, from northeastern Virginia to Maine
  • North central states, mostly in Wisconsin and Minnesota
  • West Coast, particularly northern California

The areas listed are based on where people live, not necessarily where they became infected. Cases diagnosed and reported from an area where Lyme disease is not expected are almost always travel-related.      

A national survey found that nearly 20 percent of people surveyed where Lyme disease is common were unaware that it was a risk. Half the people interviewed in another study did nothing to protect themselves against tick bites during warm weather.

For more complete information on Lyme disease, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.  https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/index.html
Image courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

BOOK TWO – QUESTION TWO:
How much can a champion cutting horse earn in one year?

FACT: A three-year-old cutting horse taking first place at a National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) event can win as much as $250,000. By competing in several events during a given year, the same horse can earn as much as a million dollars. Worldwide, total cutting horse event winnings in one year average more that 30 million dollars.

For more complete information on cutting horses, visit http://www.nchacutting.com/

To contact a cutting horse trainer, call 530-945-6079, or visit https://www.facebook.com/RandyBrooksCuttingHorses
Cutting horse photo courtesy of Randy Brooks.

Visit www.sharonstgeorge.com again soon for facts I learned by writing Book Three of the Aimee Machado Mysteries.

Books in the hospital-based Aimee Machado Mysteries, published by Camel Press, are available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from your local bookstore in trade paperback and as ebooks.