The Dawn of eHealth Records

By Paul Fowler
VP, Healthcare Innovation, Office of the CTO
Axway

Whether they’re for or against socialized medicine, everyone agrees on one thing about healthcare today: if we apply technology toward exchanging information—if we increase speed, bolster accuracy, eliminate paper and save money—we’ll all be better off.

Today, whenever you go to the hospital, they ask you if there is a history of cancer, heart attack, or stroke in your family. But do you really know? How much of your family history do you really know?

Today, whenever you go to the hospital, they ask you if there is a history of cancer, heart attack or stroke in your family. But do you really know? How much of your family history do you really know?

But where’s this going? Is it as simple as making your medical information accessible to your physician?

In a word, no.

It’s much more complicated than that, but at the same time, it presents a wonderful opportunity.

The traditional approach to healthcare has been reactive. You get sick, you go to the doctor, you get something for it.

But patient wellness is changing that way of thinking.

I used to lecture on healthcare, and I’d often illustrate my point with a scale capped off by two characters. At the top, the Olympic athlete: a uniquely healthy individual well-suited for a given sport. At the bottom, a guy with a knife in his chest: a uniquely unhealthy individual who, without immediate healthcare, is not long for this world. At the midpoint between these two characters, I wrote a single word: pain.

Traditionally in the west, for better or worse, “healthy” means “a lack of pain,” and on this scale, everything above “pain” means “healthy,” and everything below “pain” means “requires medical treatment.” In the public consciousness, the focus has always been below this “pain” midpoint, but more and more, people are realizing that this is far too general an approach, that there are things happening throughout this spectrum that deserve attention, and that that attention must be recorded.

This is where medical eHealth records come in.

Your eHealth record would be issued the moment you were born, not the moment you first got medical treatment. It would be a comprehensive profile that takes into account everything that characterizes your physical makeup—from your ethnicity to your location to your parents’ medical history—and customizes a preventative approach to health. As you continued through your life, details about your lifestyle and activity would be added, optimizing your chances for maintaining your health—not merely, cynically chronicling those moments when your health was less than ideal. Additionally, your family’s medical eHealth records—your mother, your father, your grandparents and all your blood relatives—would be integrated with your eHealth record, creating a richly detailed account of your family history that would prove invaluable to your long-term wellbeing.

Today, whenever you go to the hospital, they ask you if there is a history of cancer, heart attack or stroke in your family. But do you really know? How much of your family history do you really know? With an integrated eHealth record, you’ll be able to say, “Let’s look it up!”

This is the wonderful opportunity that I’m speaking of.

And from a technical perspective, this wonderful opportunity should present an enormous challenge.

It should challenge health practitioners to be able to move information, structured and non-structured, from one point to another. It demands that we build communities and networks, that we move information securely and safely, and that we govern all the activity that happens across it, compile the data so it’s usable, provide analytics, and make it available to people who need it. It demands a system that connects securely with governance, and by governance I mean policy—government-mandated policy like HIPAA. With so much information available and constantly in transit, the potential for catastrophic breaches should challenge us constantly, because that potential must be countered with a robust security framework that guarantees the information won’t fall into the wrong hands while in flight yet will still be easily consumable when it arrives at its destination.

Why do I say it “should challenge”?

Because, in truth, it won’t.

The principles behind the solutions that enterprises rely on to securely move information in the course of business today will be the same principles that securely move information in the course of medicine tomorrow. With eHealth records, the dream of preventative medicine that yields true patient wellness finally has a chance to be realized, and with robust, infinitely scalable solutions like B2B communications, managed file transfer and secure email, the technical challenges that have long kept us from this dream will finally become moot.

(Photo by dougww: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dougww/ / CC BY-SA 2.0)

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