Projects, designs, and writings on health IT

2014-10-31

Twitter’s new tool could enable sharing of health data

4:39 PM Posted by David Do, MD , 1 comment

David Do, MD 


It’s a common scenario: A patient in the clinic or emergency room says he had a CT scan of the head across town just three days ago, but he doesn’t know the result. To request the records from other facilities can take hours, and can be impossible in the middle of the night. Providers just do not have the time to make the formal requests necessary. Instead, we repeat the tests out of convenience, contributing to the enormous waste in healthcare spending. About 20% of tests are unnecessary repeats [1]. This is a common theme in healthcare; patients receive care within multiple health systems with poor exchange of information, resulting in wasteful spending.

The solution to this problem may seem quite obvious in this electronic age; create a common repository of electronic medical data that can be shared between hospitals. In fact, the ONC's HIE initiative has put forth over $0.5 Billion towards promoting the goal of aggregating data across institutions [2]. In reality, the answer is not so simple, because institutions are not incentivized to share data—they are more concerned with preventing breaches of information. Should this even be up to the institutions? Most people would agree that patients are the true owners of their data, and they should choose who gets to see it. Thus, whether a person’s health record is stored on the cloud, a thumb drive, or on the EMR within a hospital, patients should rightly hold the key.

Meaningful use criteria have, in fact, dictated that patients have access to their medical records via online portals. As a provider, I could provide better care if I could access these portals too. In the prior scenario, I could ask my patient to log in to his portal and look at his CT image together. Sadly, this is not yet reality, and here's why: Usage of portals is a dismal 25% [3]. That’s because most patients we care for are elderly or uneducated and are not savvy enough to access their data from the online portal. In fact, most patients are unable to remember the names of their medications, let alone usernames and passwords.

This week, Twitter announced Digits, a tool for software makers that allows users to sign into apps with just a cellular phone number. That’s one thing my patients have and can remember. Here is how it works: To log in to a website with your telephone number, the service will send a confirmation code that you subsequently type into the website, ensuring that only the owner of the telephone number can access the website. If patient’s medical records were tied to their telephone numbers, I am convinced I could deliver better care.




David Do, MD, is a physician and agile software developer.

1 comment:

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