Currently, many questions face the health care system in the United States. Health care costs are spiraling out of control forcing a growing number of individuals and families to drop their coverage, while for professionals, shortages of nurses and medical staff continue creating a hectic environment where health care professionals are overburdened. Emergency rooms have become the doctor’s office for those without insurance and a vast majority of the diseases that stricken and sicken citizens each year and drain resources from the health care system are preventable in nature, and in cost cutting moves pressure is being placed on individuals to assume more responsibility for their health.
The following are some issues that are compounding problems facing individuals, families, the medical community and associated professionals.
Healthcare professionals are deluged with information on research findings, new drugs and innovative treatment options, but are unable to assimilate the entirety of this wealth of information; creating an environment where new and more efficacious ways of treatment may be missed. Meanwhile, due to increased litigation and pressures associated with insurance companies many professionals have adopted conservative strategies and have become defensive, placing their needs before their patients’.
Additionally, despite technological advances across the field, documentation of patient information—patient records, prescriptions and medication charts for example—largely remains paper-based making it difficult to access, update and share. While organization that have adopted electronic record systems have done so on an individual level and with proprietary technology, so that accessing, updating and sharing information is easy only within their organization.
Meanwhile, a media barrage of medical advances is increasing expectations of what individuals expect from the health care community. The amount of information, sometimes conflicting in content, helps to add to confusion over what is possible, as well as plausible, and at worse generating dissatisfaction with the healthcare system.
Further complicating the problems facing the healthcare system is the reversing of the trend to move to the suburbs. Many suburbanites are leaving their homes and moving to city centers creating a situation where medical institutions and physical resources and capabilities are mismatched to needs.
In the wake of these realities exciting opportunities exist. The continued expansion of the Internet, networks and encryption technology gives hope for a unified health network that can support the needs of individuals, families, the medical community and associated professionals from a distance as well as in person. We can see glimpses of what is possible by looking at sites such as WebMD and other online health portals, as well as reviewing the emerging push towards paperless hospitals. These advances, while noteworthy, are inherently fractious and disconnected when viewed against the entire healthcare field failing to take advantage of the net’s connectivity—though strides are being made. Nevertheless, a powerful opportunity exists to leverage that connectivity through a unified systematic solution of tools and services for support.
Opportunities also exist to support the shift towards greater individual responsibilities. In part due to pressures to reduce medical costs there exists a greater trend towards greater individual responsibility in regards to healthcare. Harvard University president Larry Summers has a saying, “No one in the history of the world has ever washed a rented car.” In many ways individuals view their health as a rented car, something they have but do not have ownership over due to a disconnect between the information known and the information made available to individuals. Connecting individuals with information, however, is not enough. Again, leveraging the nature of the Internet, an opportunity exists to connect individuals with personal health information and tools tailored to enhance the information as to make its meaning relevant and accessible.
Proposed User Experience
Our solution is a system of applications and infrastructure which leverages new and existing digital technologies to provide improved access to information, collaboration, and information interpretation capabilities for all users of the system: both individual and professional in maintaining health, preventing disease, and solving medical problems. Four domains of use have been identified for the system: personal, public, portable and professional. Applications from all four domains contain elements that enable collection and interpretation of information and also enable collaboration and sharing of information. The system of applications is a system of support, a system to support those in need, to create a connection between the public and the healthcare community… between individuals and the information needed.
HealthNet Applications is:
a vision of how a system of integrated tools and services can be implemented to support the maintenance of health, prevention of disease, solving of medical problems and the opportunities such a system creates
HealthNet Infrastructure is:
Systemic, enables networked healthcare in a range of environments
Adaptive, flexible and integrated, not rigid and atomic
Empowering, encourages and enables individual involvement
Real-time, speeds decisions and distribution of resources
Charles L. Owen
Completion date: 01/12/2003