There is a great deal of attention these days to the concept of electronic medical records (EMR). Sometimes we refer to them as electronic health records (EHR) or even personal health records (PHR). While there are semantic differences between each, the idea is the same: a complete, portable electronic snapshot of your health. At least that is the idea. In practice today we are really talking about an electronic record of your medical history. (notice I left out portable, complete and health). Enter the idea of accountable care. Many industry experts are already envisioning a near future when providers will move from reaction to proaction. Rather than being paid to treat the symptoms that walk in the door, doctors may get paid for keeping you out of the office. A practical example is obesity. Instead of being reimbursed to treat the side effects of obesity (asthma, diabetes, joint pain, etc), a doctor may get paid for helping a patient achieve a healthy lifestyle and losing weight.
There is still something missing from this equation. And that is where your social graph comes in. A lot of us do healthy things all the time. According to Foursquare, the geolocation based social network, I have "checked in" to my gym 57 times since early March. I have gone to the farmer's market 15 times this year. I have attended four medical education seminars (ok, those were work-related, but I still learned something). Here's the rub, my doctor doesn't know any of that. If he is going to be responsible for my complete health, shouldn't those things factor in?
So, continuing my "someone please build this" series of blog posts, here is my latest plea: someone please build a conduit between my social graph and my health record. Let me opt in and chose which things I share online which should also go into my EMR to become available for anyone treating me. Tools like Foursquare come to mind as an obvious choice. Since it is based on location, it takes some of the effort out of participating; it just knows where you are. So when I check in to the gym, wouldn't it be great if my health record was updated too?
My good friend and HCSM guru, Dana Lewis pointed out the power of twitter hashtags. What if we were able to define a specific, personal tag, say #NicksHealth. Every time I want to include a twitter update in my health record, I tag it with #NicksHealth. Last week, I had surgery on my knee to repair an ACL injury. Every day for the first week, I took a picture and loaded it into Flickr, the social photo sharing site and posted a link to the picture to Twitter. If I were able to tag it with #NicksHealth then my doctor would have a series of images showing the progression of my range of motion, wound healing, etc. When I update my Facebook page with details from physical therapy, that information could populate my medical record, along with my Foursquare checkins - my doctor would see just how compliant I have been with his rehab orders.
It doesn't all have to be healthy. Providers need a complete snapshot of our lifestyles if they are going to suggest a course of care. Perhaps through incentives, competition or other means, patients may be encouraged to also share things that are less healthy. "I ate a burger tonight, with fries…and bacon…lots of it. #NicksHealth" - My doctor should probably know how often that happens in relation to my trips to the gym.
There are, of course, some challenges to this idea; including the burden of combing through all the data. Physicians may already feel like they have information overload. Without an accountable care model in place today, there is not much to entice them to pour over patients' social graphs. In time, we will also need software that can automatically sift through the updates and present them in a meaningful way to physicians. However, the first step remains building the connection.
Every major social network has an API, or Application Programer's Interface. APIs are a way to move data into and out of systems. If you use a twitter client like Tweetdeck or Twitter on your iPhone, you are using the Twitter API. Health providers, when considering their online offerings, would be wise to build in API functionality to online health portals.
Let people chose which data they want to share with their medical record. Providers can incentivize participation through reduced co-pays, social competition, etc. In return they get a rich flow of lifestyle information. When accountable care, meaningful use, EMRs and social graphs come together it will be a win for us all.