Defending Personal Health Data in the Digital Age

shafiq-rab

Shafiq Rab, MD

As medicine becomes more precise and individualized — and as technology makes collecting and dispensing data easier than ever — you may wonder about the safety of your personal health information.

The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires protection of certain electronic data — such as any information that can identify you or that pertains to your physical or mental health, including treatments.

“But Rush goes beyond what’s HIPAA-mandated by protecting all of your health information against outside intrusion and inside breaches, including data that doesn’t contain your name or other identifiable information,” says Shafiq Rab, MD, MPH, senior vice president and chief information officer at Rush University Medical Center.

‘Moral and ethical duty’

Rush has the following safeguards in place to protect and defend your data:

  • Thanks to encryption software, any would-be cyber-thief who tries to gain access to digital data would be unable to unscramble and use it.
  • Privacy is a top priority of Rush employees. As part of their training, they learn to rigorously protect patient info by following several internal security guidelines.
  • Rush is constantly checking the identity of authorized personnel to ensure that only people who need to know can see your patient health data.
  • Rush hires outside security firms to test its computer system for weaknesses.

But what makes Rush stand out is a culturally embedded belief in the sanctity of patient health information. That belief is held by people across the organization — from doctors to nurses to patient registration specialists. “Patients come to Rush because they trust us with their health care,” Rab says. “It’s also our moral and ethical duty to take care of their health information.

Shafiq Rab, MD, MPH, is passionate about information technology because of its potential to improve people’s lives. He believes technological innovation is one of the best ways to enhance health care for individuals and society as a whole.

‘Lighting the Way’ for People With Huntington’s Disease

jennifer-goldman-mdBy Jennifer G. Goldman, MD, MS

Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself. — Desiderius Erasmus

On May 18, 2017, a number of South American families living with Huntington’s disease had the chance of a lifetime: to hold an audience with Pope Francis I at the Vatican in Rome. This meeting was a collaborative effort between the medical communities in Venezuela, Colombia, and Argentina and the Huntington’s disease community worldwide to bring visibility to HD, reduce stigma, and offer a global stage for amazing individuals to share their stories and shine light on this debilitating condition.

Huntington’s disease is an inherited disease that causes certain nerve cells in the brain to degenerate or waste away. This degeneration causes uncontrolled movements, loss of mental capacities and emotional disturbance. According to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, “Many describe the symptoms of HD as having ALS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s — simultaneously.”

People are born with the defective gene, but symptoms typically don’t appear until age 30 or older, often in the prime of a person’s life. The disease is passed from parent to child through a mutation in the normal gene, so if one of your parents has Huntington’s disease, you have a 50 percent chance of getting it.

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Using Light Therapy to Treat Chronic Pain

light-therapy-horizontalBy Helen J. Burgess, PhD, and John W. Burns, PhD

Can light therapy help people with chronic pain? We conducted a study to find the answer. You may wonder why such a possibility occurred to us.

We already know that light treatment — particularly light treatment in the morning — can reduce depression. This effect appears due to special non-visual receptors in the eye that transmit light straight to the amygdala, a key mood center in the brain.

We also know that when you improve mood, you can decrease or diminish pain, and improve people’s ability to cope and function with pain. On the other hand, medications often prescribed for chronic pain, including antidepressants and antiseizure medications, can have only small effects on pain, and that the side effects are significant enough that many people stop taking them. Finally, we know that opioid medications carry many risks, and patients are looking for affordable non-drug treatments that they can use in their own homes.

Ten women tested

With these considerations in mind, we ran a pilot study to test if light treatment could help people in chronic pain. We enrolled 10 women with fibromyalgia — a condition characterized by chronic widespread pain — into a two-week study. For the first week, the women slept at home as per usual. Then we brought them into the Rush Sleep Disorders Service and Research Center and asked them to report on their baseline function by completing the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire. This assessment asks about daily tasks such as how hard it is to walk several blocks, climb stairs and drive a car.

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Low Birth Weights Tell Troubling Tale of Two Cities

birth-weight-disparitiesBy Fernando De Maio, PhD, Patricia O’Campo, PhD, David Ansell, MD, MPH, and Raj C. Shah, MD

Health inequities — differences that are avoidable, unnecessary and unjust — are a striking feature of cities in the United States, including Chicago. While it is true that all of our city’s 77 communities have experienced an improvement in some key health indicators over the past three decades, inequities between communities have grown over this time.

New research from the Center for Community Health Equity — a collaboration of Rush University Medical Center and DePaul University — explores the prevalence of low birth weight deliveries in Chicago communities. (Our study defined this prevalence as the percentage of live births at less than 2,500 grams, or roughly 5.5 pounds.) This statistic is an important indicator of population health and is widely used to study the health effects of racism.

Good health, as we have seen again and again, is a product of social justice, and Chicago’s deep-rooted racial/ethnic segregation harms the health of its residents. Across Chicago communities, the proportion of low birth weight is 10 percent, with the best-off communities near 3 percent and the worst-off communities approaching 20 percent. Segregation plays an important role in explaining these differences: The most highly segregated African-American communities, among them Avalon Park and Washington Heights, have the most prevalent low birth weight rates. Accounting for 70 percent of the differences between communities are segregation, unemployment and low educational attainment, which are factors that all highly correlated with low birth weight.

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Protecting Kids From Microwave-Related Scalding

By Kyran Quinlan, MD, MPH

When he was 3 years old, Zamari was at home, waiting for his soup being heated in the microwave. His mother was home with him, but involved in a conversation. Zamari could tell that the microwave had finished cooking and it was time to eat. He couldn’t wait. He left where he was with his mother and went into the kitchen. He opened the door of the microwave and removed the bowl of soup from it, and as he did, it spilled on him. On his chest. Scalding hot soup on his chest.

And he screamed. He says it felt like someone had put a torch on him.

His mother heard his cries and came running. She took his shirt off and pulled his burned, peeling chest skin off with it. He was brought to the hospital and was admitted to the burn unit for care of his wound. He was in tremendous pain. His wound required dressing changes in the operating room. The hospital stay lasted a week and left him with a permanent large scar on his chest.

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Rush Orthopedics Pioneer Jorge Galante, 1934-2017

jorge-galante-mdJorge O. Galante, MD, MDSc, a trailblazing orthopedic surgeon, inventor and professor who revolutionized the science of joint replacement, died on Feb. 9 on Sanibel Island, Florida. He was 82.

At the time of his death, Galante was a life trustee and the Grainger Director Emeritus of the Rush Arthritis and Orthopedic Institute at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Galante joined Rush, previously known as Presbyterian-St Luke’s, in 1972 as the first chairperson of its newly established Department of Orthopedic Surgery, a position he held until 1994. Over the years, he made Rush home to one of the country’s leading orthopedic programs. U.S. News & World Report currently ranks it as the country’s fourth best orthopedic program in the United States and the No. 1 program in Illinois.

An exceptionally talented surgeon himself, Galante nurtured generations of orthopedic surgeons and scientists at Rush, many of whom still practice today. He also established the Rush’s Motion Analysis Lab, which studies the functional performance of people during activities of daily living in order to improve the physical capabilities of people suffering from musculoskeletal ailments.

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Go Small to Help Realize Your Resolutions

octavio-vegaBy Octavio Vega, MD

At the beginning of any new year, we often have the inner motivation to make new year’s resolutions. This is frequently the time when people decide to make positive changes in their health and overall well-being.

However, sometimes we set ourselves up to bite off more than we can chew and, unfortunately, end up abandoning the resolutions altogether. Instead of focusing on large goals that may be difficult to attain, make smaller changes that will enable you to achieve sustainable results.

Here are some suggestions for small goals that will equal big changes in your health (and could also positively affect other facets of your life):

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