Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Counting Numbers

I couldn't sleep last night so instead of counting sheep, I counted all the numbers by which I am counted.

Firstly my social insurance number which I got when I was 16. The card is long since gone but I still remember the number. You got asked for it a lot back then, banks, universities etc. If you wrote a cheque they often wanted your SIN. In the 1970s the military used it as a service number(I had some friends in the military so I knew that), some provinces used it as your health care number and some universities (not mine) used it as your student number. People soon started objecting to having to give out their SIN and now the number is treated with strict reverence. I have often wondered what malicious information some hacker living in his parents basement could get by knowing my SIN that he couldn't just get by for example reading this blog or my facebook page.

Next was my student number. For 7 years I had to write this on applications, exams, essays, cheques at the bookstore etc. Consequently the number is burned in my brain. I actually had to give it out recently for some alumni thing and was amazed I could still rattle it off. The university of course also wanted your SIN so that they could send you your tax receipts.

When I became a doctor I was deluged with numbers. Firstly I have my provincial college number that I have to write on prescriptions now so I have it memorized although I recently got a rubber stamp to guard against early Alzheimer's. Very importantly I have a billing number which is 9 digits although as every doctor's number ends in 08 and there is a check number only 6 of them are used. I also have two business arrangement numbers both 9 digits. I also have a WCB billing number which is my old medicare billing number which is 5 digits and a letter. In addition every professional association I belong to gives me a number which I need to know to access their websites etc and the Medical Protective Association won't even answer the phone unless I have it handy. I also have my LMCC number and every province I ever worked in gave me a number.

A few years ago I read a news article in a medical journal where every doctor in Canada was going to be assigned a unique number. What a great idea, I thought. Unfortunately I read on and found out that this number was to be in addition to, not in place of all the other numbers. As an aside the registrar of the New Brunswick Medical Council wrote a very folksy apology for having to assign numbers in New Brunswick when they computerized.

Just about every patient I see has a healthcare number as do I. Our province has a 9 digit number although every number ends in 0 or 1 and there is a check digit for only 7 of numbers are being used. When I moved here the number was 11 digits but they managed to shed two of them. Every province has a different number. BC has 10 digits although every number begins with 9. Ontario likewise has 10 digits. Manitoba manages to get along with 6 digits. Newfoundland with its 500,000 population has 12 digits. Their number is unique as it can be generated by the patient's date of birth. Every military patient has a number which you usually have to chase down in order to get paid. WCB patients usually have at least one claim number and they also want the health care number and the SIN.

Our healthcare numbers are called ULIs which means Universal (or Unique I can't remember) Lifetime Indentifier. Just because a patient has a ULI, doesn't mean they have healthcare. To find out whether they do you can call a phone number.

When you check into hospital you are assigned a hospital number which is different from your ULI number. Just to things more complicated each hospital has a different numbering system. Because with regionalization, most patients will have visited more than one hospital patients will have several different hospital numbers. Private clinics of course have their own chart numbers.

To log on the province's shamefully inadequate EMR from outside the hospital I have to use a series of six numbers preceded by another 4 digit number specific to me. If I actually get through which is not a sure thing, I have to then enter my user name and another password (see below).

I also have 3 credit cards whose numbers I give out a lot on the Internet hopefully known only to me, the hacker living in his parent's basement and the guy who probably skimmed my cards yesterday. When I used to order a lot of pizza I actually had my credit card number memorized. I have two bank cards with incredibly long numbers which I have to type in, to log onto the online banking.

I have a number of phone numbers most of which I can't remember but fortunately I have them stored on my I-phone. For some reason I can still remember my parent's first phone number which was changed in 1972 to another when Victoria started running out of phone numbers for the 38 exchange. I also for some reason know my mother in law's old phone number but not her current one. Most other phone numbers I have had, I forget. I have had the same residential phone number for 19 years now. That is over one third of life. I also have a cell phone number and a voicemail number which I recently got.

Oh yes passport numbers. I wrote mine down so many times during my last trip to Africa where you couldn't check into a hotel without giving it that I finally memorized it. I have since forgotten it.

We are not even going to talk about the number of user names and passwords which many other people have vented on. These are at least easier to remember except that every site has different rules for user names and passwords and I have yet to find a combination that works for every site. Plus some of them make you change your password every few months. If you steal my I-phone you will get a reasonably up to date list of my user names and passwords.

All these numbers and I still didn't get to sleep last night.

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