It took Facebook eight years to sign up 901 million users. It took the health information technology movement a whopping 20 years to get around 34% of doctors to use computers and the Internet as part of their practices. Facebook accomplished this amazing growth because it fully understood how to get people online: by making socializing easy.
I’m not the biggest Facebook fan. In fact, I actually kind of hate it. It’s corporate blue, confusing, and my profile looks the same as everyone else’s. But Facebook understands our needs as social creatures.
We can use it to peer into the lives of friends, family, heroes, and enemies. We can keep track of our own lives and the lives of our friends. We log on because we’re curious, proud, funny, bored, embarrassed, happy, sad, and sometimes in need of a few kind words of encouragement from that guy you met that one time.
Practicing medicine is also a social act. We gather a history by talking with the patient, analyzing the situation, and communicating a plan. In the end, we need to get paid for this transaction. Two out of these four acts involve human-to-human communication.
According to current health IT principles, the most important reason to use computers and the Internet in medicine is to lower costs and increase efficiencies. But that’s not true. The most important reason to implement health IT is to improve the experience for our patients. We, as doctors, need tools that help us best communicate with our patients and to access their medical histories, making their experience better and more streamlined.
Patients typically spend less than one hour a year with their doctors per year— that means there’s 8,759 hours per year that patients go without talking with a doctor. Some people even skip that one-hour visit all together. It’s been shown that patients forget around 85% of what we say during visits. That means, at best, our patients remember about nine minutes of everything we say per year.
What if they could remember all of it? What would that do for our country’s health? What if we as doctors could look deep into our patient’s medical histories from birth? What if we could remind our patients to take their pills or exercise? Of course, technology exists to help humans communicate with one another--technology like Facebook, Skype, or text messaging. That’s why health IT needs to mimic these types of technologies that we’re all so used to. Health IT needs to function and feel more like Facebook.
To start, I’d like to see a “Health Timeline” for patients so they can get beyond forgetting 85% of what I say, to remembering 100% of what I say because they can easily access it online…in a way that makes sense to them. Imagine the change that our patients can make in their lives if they have access to this information? Plus, I’d be able to look deep into my patient’s histories, tapping into all their drug and medical history before I make a diagnosis.
So how do we convert our electronic medical records into social electronic medical records?
The first step is to identify the proper target user. Facebook started with people in college. I’m a 36-year-old physician. I can still recall life before the Internet. Today’s youngest medical students were born in 1991, and they’re going to be health professions in three short years. Technology and usability is in their DNA. When they enter the medical profession, they’ll be thrown into a world completely foreign to them, without the technology they’re used to outside of the office—unless we start implementing new, social health IT.
On the other extreme, our current health IT leaders are soon-to-be retiring boomers who, for the most part, are technological laggards. But the latest research suggests that these laggards are creating Facebook profiles in droves because they’re social creatures under pressure from their friends and family to communicate in new ways.
So how do we bridge this user gap? We need to stop being so conservative as doctors. We need to realize that Facebook, Twitter, and other technologies are building simple tools that diminish gaps between generations, and help us communicate effectively. Latch on to their lead. We need to design health IT that pushes the laggards and steals Facebook’s best features for use in healthcare.
We need to know that half of our time isn’t spent on documenting and getting paid. We need to see that 85% our efforts aren’t forgotten. We need to change the way we approach digitizing healthcare.
Let Facebook inspire us.
This article is commissioned by Qualcomm Incorporated. The views expressed are the author's own.