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MULLEN

"Do you have black lung disease?"

Every time I have an appointment at the hospital clinic, they ask me that. At first, I thought I must look a lot sicker than I feel.

They never ask me if I have diabetes or lupus or tennis elbow, just black lung disease. I asked the nurse if anyone had ever answered "yes" to the black lung question. She said "no." Since my hospital is several states away from the nearest coal mine, I can't say I was very surprised.

At my age, a week without having to get a checkup or exam with a doctor, dentist or ophthalmologist is like a spa holiday -- and I'm in good health. I can't imagine what a time-sucker it must be to be sick.

But checking in is always a soul-killing experience. The receptionist sits in front of a computer with all my records on it, and yet, for the 500th time, she asks me for my Social Security number and my birthday as if I've never been here before. I want to pull out my Social Security card and show her where it says that the number is NOT to be used for identification purposes, but I know it's pointless. Every one of my health care providers asks for it. Guess they've never heard of computer hackers. Gee, if I'm lucky, I can get my teeth cleaned and my identity stolen all on the same day. Thanks, doc!

Once again, I have to sign a HIPAA form that gives my doctor permission to request all my very private medical records from my other doctors, as if my health were some huge military secret. Here I am, at a big building with a sign outside that says EYE AND LASER CENTER in giant letters. Anyone can read it from half a mile away. Why do you think I'm here? To have a colonoscopy? Boy howdy, that'd be embarrassing if someone knew about that.

Why on Earth would I mind if my other doctors sent this doctor my records? I would mind it if they gave them to a newspaper or to my barber -- but what doctor would do that? I'm sure some other law would apply in that case.

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How many trees do we cut down every year for HIPAA forms? It should be a standard health care policy that medical professionals can, and should, share information. Not a form that every single individual has to sign over and over and over again.

In a world where people post videos of themselves doing the most ridiculous things, I don't think it's a big secret that you have diabetes or got a new hip. Whoa! What if the neighbors find out? Half the people I see in the grocery store have some kind of obvious medical condition. Are we not supposed to notice that your arm's in a sling? Is that big black orthopedic boot on your foot a fashion statement? I'm guessing a big part of Amazon's business is selling stuff that people are too embarrassed to buy at the local pharmacy.

The funny thing is that my friends spend hours entertaining us with their tales of multiple bypasses, how long it took to remove their gall bladder, comparing what prescriptions they're taking for blood pressure and cholesterol. At a funeral, we all know what carried off the dearly departed. Some of the discussions are quite detailed: what the doctors did, what happened in the ICU, how the patient looked the last time you visited, how much the hospital stay cost.

I'm thinking that doctors shouldn't be the ones asking us to sign HIPAA forms. We should require them at funerals, golf courses and potluck dinners. That's where you hear all the good medical gossip. Why should health care providers have to safeguard the same information that we won't shut up about?

It must be really boring to have dinner at a doctor's house. You won't get any good gossip.

Contact Jim Mullen at mullen.jim@gmail.com

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