IT and HIEs are important, but can they stop a shooter?

Sept. 7, 2011
I was rather appalled this week to receive an email inviting me to discuss the role of IT and health information exchanges (HIE) as preventative measures to counteract events such as happened in Tucson, Arizona last week with an IT company executive. IT and HIEs offer great promise to healthcare, but I am sorry: I do not think that either IT or an HIE can do much, if anything, to predict or stop heinous acts such as the shootings of innocent people.

I was rather appalled this week to receive an email inviting me to discuss the role of IT and health information exchanges (HIE) as preventative measures to counteract events such as happened in Tucson, Arizona last week with an IT company executive.

IT and HIEs offer great promise to healthcare, but I am sorry: I do not think that either IT or an HIE can do much, if anything, to predict or stop heinous acts such as the shootings of innocent people.

For a start, how would IT and an HIE identify a person most likely to commit such an act? How would it differentiate between a person who merely behaves erratically and one who plans to kill others? It would have to depend upon past behavior and although some disturbed people leave a solid trail of clues, many do not. So much for algorithms.

But let’s say that an HIE could pinpoint with a high degree of probability someone very likely to hurt or kill someone, who would have access to that information? Privacy laws strictly safeguard personal health information, particularly mental health information. Without the express permission of the patient, not even other care givers have access to that information. People with seriously delusional views of the world are unlikely to agree to have their health information available to other care providers, let alone law enforcement personnel.

I sincerely wish there were a way to identify and intercept a person planning to harm others. What happened last week in Tucson was absolutely evil. Unfortunately, there is no surefire way. Not even healthcare IT.

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