Saturday, July 31, 2010

Crowd Sourcing for Maternal Health

The high rate of devastating complications of pregnancy, labor and delivery continues to be a desperate problem, especially in poorer parts of the world. The good folks at Oxford University are trying a new approach to understanding the barriers to better maternal health and perhaps to finding answers: they're asking folks. Which folks? Just about everybody who takes care of expectant mothers in third world settings.  They've set up a web site, Global Voices for Maternal Health, to use crowd-sourcing to get more and better input into this problem. (Even if you're not a third world maternal health provider, you're welcome to participate in the discussions.)

Crowdsourcing is the use of large numbers of distributed workers (usually interacting over the Internet) to solve problems or do tasks that are difficult for smaller teams to do. It has been used in the arts, business (especially marketing), and in science, but hasn't had much application in health that I know of. (Innocentive has applied it to biomedical science, but not to health care delivery.) So, this project is a bit of first.

Will they get the magic bullet answer that has eluded all the experts and policy makers for decades? Probably not. But they might get more than a few really great ideas that can have a positive impact on the lives of millions. It's a clever way to take advantage of new technologies to generate more and better information and certianly worth a try.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Next Great Healthcare Revolution?

Your hosts here at HIE are happy to share the bully pulpit on occasion with folks who want to put their 2 cents in about moving information around to make care better. So, here is piece by guest blogger Alexis Bonari.

Health Information Systems: The Next Great Healthcare Revolution 
As online database technology moves to the forefront in many industries, we are faced with a crucial question: would a Health Information System create an environment that fostered a higher standard of patient care?  It would certainly make the transfer of records from one doctor or healthcare provider to another much simpler than it currently is.  

How it would work.
A comprehensive Health Information System would encompass all of the patient’s medical records.  Often, a patient might forget to report a treatment they had undergone years in the past.  When seeking treatment for a more current problem, the doctor overseeing the case might benefit from knowing about the previous procedure or diagnosis. 

Prevention is key.
Further, the past case history might be used to develop a preventative care plan for given potential illnesses.  Let’s say, for example, that a patient had suffered from an eating disorder during their adolescence.  That person would be more likely to experience the effects of weakened bones and teeth later in their adult life.  A few simple preventative measures would potentially prevent them from losing teeth due to calcium deficiency or from allowing osteoporosis to gain a foothold.  Without access to their adolescent medical records, a doctor wouldn’t have the information necessary to create such a plan.

The power of statistics.
Over the long term, a Health Information System would allow the medical community to track the health of the nation, individuals, families, and certain demographics.  No longer would we have to rely upon statistical sampling techniques to determine the exact incidence of cancer in a given population.  We would already have the data available. Currently, data used to determine such statistics is expensive and difficult to gather.   

Family ties.
Further, families could identify disease trends over multiple generations. As more is understood about the genetic component of certain types of cancers, etc. a statistical model could be produced for each individual that would predict the likelihood that they would develop particular diseases or conditions. Once again, preventative care could be tailored to the specific needs of the individual.

Privacy issues.
The primary concern when creating a Health Information System would be the problem of patient privacy.   If steps weren’t taken to prevent it, financially interested individuals and organizations, such as health insurance companies and any government health organization, might use the information obtained as justification to withhold or limit treatment from currently healthy individuals.  This problem would have to be foreseen and prevented from the inception of the Health Information System.  Ideally, the system should only be used for improving patient care and for disease prevention. 

Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at  First in Education, researching various accredited online degree programs. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.