“A Social Network for Your Doctor, Pharmacist, and Insurer”

“A Social Network for Your Doctor, Pharmacist, and Insurer”
Washington Post, August 15, 2008

Trends in social networking are extending themselves beyond more traditional social realms and are making their way into the doctor patient relationship.  WellNet Healthcare is launching a beta version of Point to Point Healthcare, a “social network” for patients, their doctors, and other members of their health care team.   Microsoft, Google, and insurance companies are also investing resources towards increasing the popularity of online medical records.

“Imagine a virtual health clinic: Your lung doctor and heart specialist can pull up your online medical profile and chat, via instant messenger, about your medications. You schedule checkups online, create a wellness journal or even rate your general practitioner. ”

This virtual health clinic sounds intriguing and certainly better than a waiting room.  Consolidated and readily available medical records and fast feedback between patients, doctors, pharmacies, and insurance companies can potentially lead to more efficient and less expensive health care.  Well Net already provides data about patients and their use of their health care plans to employers so that employers can evaluate their health plan offerings.  This new online network may provide additional information that allows companies to better prioritize aspects of health care plans important to employees.  Point to Point Healthcare and similar technologies might also encourage individuals to be more proactive participants in their personal health care by better and more frequent interaction with health care providers.

However, despite the potential increase in efficiency and patient access to information, this medical social network raises some potential issues.
First, doctors generally like IT that is easy to use and increases efficiency or decreases work.  When technology requires a training and adjustment period, it can potentially lead to a short term degradation in patient care and higher stress levels for doctors as illustrated in the reading “Electronic Health Records: Just around the Corner?” .  Patients using the site may not be tech savvy either, so the site must be easy to use in order to ensure quality information.

Secondly, some patients might not be interested in managing their health care information to this extent .  They may choose to remain disengaged and continue to consider the management of their health care data as a service provided by doctors and insurance companies.  Additionally, despite the fact that the program is only in beta and isn’t required, the potential diversity of users should be considered up front.  A large portion of the population, particularly senior citizens, the portion of the population seeking the most medical care, aren’t comfortable or even aware of social networking sites.

Privacy is also an issue.  Point to Point Healthcare and other online records systems will need to meet privacy guidelines set out by HIPAA.  As pointed out in the Washington Post article, the ramifications around the theft of personal health information are greater than identity and financial information theft, both of which are painful, but resolvable.  Private health information is either private or it isn’t.  The damage can’t be undone.

I think there is a lot of interesting potential in a service that links patients, doctors, and the rest of their health care team, but only if it can provide the privacy patients are entitled to and lets doctors do what they do best, treat patients.

Relevant Lectures: 2. Issues and Context, 15. Personal Information Management,  19. User Interfaces, Social/Distributed Categorization

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Open Secrets

“Open Secrets: Enron, intelligence, and the perils of too much information” by Malcolm Gladwell in the January 8, 2007 New Yorker.

There are puzzles and there are mysteries. You solve puzzles by finding the missing information; with mysteries the problem is that you have too much information, and solving them requires analysis. In this article, Gladwell applies this paradigm from Gregory Treverton to Enron’s collapse (and also to the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Watergate, Nazi propaganda in WWII, and cancer). He disputes the widely accepted premise that Enron withheld information on its dubious practices. In reality Enron disclosed nearly everything and analysts failed to understand the sea of data.

Today’s problems force us to re-examine the human element of information processing. Though the amount of information is paralyzing and noise is high, “the complex, uncertain issues that the modern world throws at us require the mystery paradigm.”

This article fits best with the 9/3 lecture on issues and contexts.

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