Healthcare May be Mighty Sick This New Year's Weekend

Ready for Y2K? It probably depends on what industry you're in, according to the latest U.S. Senate report on Y2K readiness. Some, such as banks and telecommunications carriers -- are well along the path to compliance. Others, such as healthcare and government, are struggling along.

"Progress is being made, but in various key sectors, remediation efforts for Y2K have fallen behind," says U.S. Senator Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem, whose report is the culmination of hearing testimony, survey data and government reporting on the Y2K problem.

Citing a low level of awareness among doctors and a lack of planning by hospitals, the report singles out health care as the worst-prepared industry for the Y2K glitch. This may severely impact the supply chain of pharmaceuticals and may cause vital diagnostic equipment to malfunction.

"The health care industry is large and incredibly fragmented," said Bennett. "I don't believe the health care industry's lack of preparedness will necessarily mean loss of life, but it could seriously impact care for millions of Americans dependent on prescription drugs and regular medical treatments to stay healthy."

The report provided industry-by-industry assessments of progress toward achieving Year 2000 compliance:

Utilities: Progressing slowly. Industry statistics show that about 50% of the nation's 3,200 utilities has completed Y2K remediation as of December 1998. However, 1,000 utilities are small, rural electric utilities that may not have the resources for Y2K remediation.

Healthcare: Barely just begun. The report cites a GartnerGroup estimate that 65% of hospitals have no plans to test their Y2K remediation efforts, and that 90% of physicians' offices are unaware of their Y2K exposure.

Telecommunications: Well advanced. "The telecommunications industry has spent billions on Y2K fixes and should have 99% of access lines in compliance by this fall," the report notes.

Transportation: At risk. "On average, the nation's 670 domestic airports started Y2K compliance too late." Air traffic control systems and the maritime shipping industry have not moved aggressively enough to address Y2K.

Finance: Ahead of the pack. "The financial services sector ranks ahead of nearly all other industries in its remediation and testing efforts." In addition, the report notes that about 95% of banks, thrifts and credit unions are making satisfactory compliance.

Government: In pain. Many state and local governments lag in Y2K remediation, and the federal government faces a $7.5 bill to remediate and test a myriad of systems -- and won't get done in time.

General business: The larger and more regulated, the better. "In general, large companies have dealt well with the Y2K problem, and very small businesses may survive using manual processes. However, many small and medium-sized businesses are extremely unprepared. The heavily regulated insurance, investment services, and banking industries are furthest ahead in their efforts. health care, oil, education, agriculture, farming, food processing, and the construction industries are lagging behind."