American citizens are confused about the whole E-health thing, and it's time to get them some help to understand the choices they will need to make.

Johanna Ambrosio, Tech Journalist

February 21, 2006

4 Min Read

In a week where danger lurked around just about every corner, one milestone stood out above the rest. E-health is, arguably, the most important government mandate over the next decade--and the prognosis from where I sit is not all that good, to be honest.

More about that later. For now, for those of you who haven't heard, a quick recap of the week's top security foibles:

-- Homeland Security spells out coming online threats. Brace for more IM and cell-phone attacks, DHS is saying. It's important for any agency that serves the general public--and that's most--to help get the word out about this and about how to protect against these attacks.

-- Some users of Internet Explorer 7's beta are reporting problems accessing crucial update sites, but Microsoft denies any system-wide glitch. Like you needed another reason to steer clear of betas, right?

-- An exploit against the Windows Media Player vulnerability disclosed by Microsoft last week may be very close to hitting unpatched users. I'm sure nobody reading this is unpatched, or at least I'd hope not, but now you know.

-- A thief can gain access to information stored on RFID tags by using just a simple cell phone, a cryptographer says. Market pressure to get the tags down to five cents each has forced designers to eliminate security features, a shortcoming that needs to be addressed in next-generation products, the researcher says.

-- Critical bugs sting Lotus Notes. Some of the six holes can allow attackers to hijack corporate systems even if users only view incoming e-mail. Upgrading Notes to versions 6.5.5 or 7.0.1 solves the problem, IBM.said.

-- Okay, admittedly this one's in a different class than the others, but it verifies why it's important to listen to your mother, in this case about washing your hands, which is a big theme in my house these days. (How Mom is usually right, that is.) Turns out that Internet cafe computer mice are the second most bacteria-carrying item found in public facilities, according to a Korean study. The top germ-grabbers aren't what you're probably thinking, either.

But the scariest item of all was a story about two studies that say federal government and healthcare institutions are on a completely different planet than most 'regular' Americans when it comes to e-health initiatives. Most consumers, it turns out, are completely unaware that the federal government is on a mission regarding e-health records. According to an IDC study, 70% of consumers didn't know this is happening.

Wow. If this study is true, the federal government and its partners are really messing up here. If citizens don't know, how are they going to be willing and active participants? How are we supposed to help figure this out if we don't even know it's happening?

As I said in my blog entry, "You've Got A Lotta 'Splainin To Do," IT professionals are often called on to be the translators between technology and business, or in this case technology and the general public. America needs someone to put this stuff into English so that everyone's great-uncle or mother can understand it. It's certainly time for a massive education campaign regarding health technology. People need to know that they will need to make some decisions about what they're willing to make public, and to whom or which entities, regarding their health. I understand the infrastructure is still being built--and there's no agreement here, either. But regardless of the technology used, it would be good for all involved for consumers to start thinking about this sooner rather than later.

At the very least, you'd think that the feds would want to start touting the (theoretical) benefits about e-health, to help consumers get over their "Big Brother" fears. The survey said that's the biggest problem citizens see looming in all this.

There needs to be a concerted education effort in hospitals, doctors' offices, and every federal and state agency where the public can walk in: Social Security, motor vehicles, disability, and the rest. Let's get those fliers and booklets going. As a national retail chain says, "An educated consumer is our best customer."

What do you think?

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About the Author(s)

Johanna Ambrosio

Tech Journalist

Johanna Ambrosio is an award-winning freelance writer specializing in business and technology. She has been a reporter and an editor in the computer industry for over 25 years, covering virtually every technology topic, starting with 'office automation' in the 1980s, as well as management issues including ROI and how to attract and retain talent. Her work has appeared online and in print, in publications including Application Development Trends, Government Computer News, Crain's New York Business, Investor's Business Daily, InformationWEEK, and the Metrowest Daily News. She formerly worked at Computerworld, for which she held various positions, including online director. She holds a B.S. in technical writing from Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, N.Y., now the Tandon School of Engineering of New York University. She lives with her husband in a Boston suburb. Johanna's samples of her work are at https://www.clippings.me/jambrosio.

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