Yesterday, one of the founders of Twitter, Biz Stone, gave the opening keynote at HIMSS.
This is probably going to be the best keynote at HIMSS, followed by a speech from Dr. Farzad Mostashari, which will also be excellent. It goes downhill after that: there will be a talk about politics and another talk from an “explorer.” I am sure those will be great talks, but when I go to HIMSS, I want to hear about health information technology. Want to know what @biz actually said? As usual, Twitter itself provides an instant summary.
HIMSS stands for Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. The annual HIMSS conference is the largest Health IT gathering on the planet. Almost 40,000 people will show up to discuss healthcare information systems. Many of them will be individuals sent by their hospitals to try and find out what solutions they will need to purchase in order to meet meaningful use requirements. But many of the attendees are old school health IT experts, many of whom have spent entire careers trying to bring technology into a healthcare system that has resisted computerization tooth and nail. This year will likely break all kind of attendance records for HIMSS. Rightly so: The value of connecting thousands of health IT experts with tens of thousands who are seeking health IT experts has never been higher.
It is ironic that Biz Stone is keynoting this year’s talk, because Twitter has changed the health IT game so substantially. I say Twitter specifically, and not “social media” generally. I do not think Facebook or Google+ or your social media of choice has had nearly the impact that Twitter has had on healthcare communications.
HIMSS, and in many cases traditional health IT along with it, is experiencing something of a whirlwind. One force adding wind has been the fact that President Obama has funded EHR systems with meaningful use, and made it clear that the future of healthcare funding will take place at Accountable Care Organizations (ACO) that are paid to keep people healthy rather than to cover procedures when they are sick. It is hard to understate the importance of this. Meaningful Use and ACOs will do more to computerize medicine in five years than the previous 50 years without these incentive changes.
But in the same breath, we must admit that the healthcare system as a whole is strained and unable to meet the needs of millions of its patients. The new force in healthcare is peer to peer medicine. There are really only a few things that doctors provide to patients. They either provide treatment, or they provide facts, or perhaps, they provide context for those facts. More and more, patients are seeking facts and context for that information, from the Internet generally and other patients specifically. This can be dangerous, but when done correctly it can be revolutionary .
It’s not rocket science really; our culture has changed. Baby boomers still wonder if it is OK to discuss sexual issues in polite company. Their kids blog about their vasectomies. It’s not just that we blog about vasectomies. We read blogs about vasectomies and consider it normal.
Someday, I will decide whether or not I should get a vasectomy. (I would like to have kids first). When I make that decision, I might just give @johnbiggs a shout and ask him how its going. He might not have time to answer me. But some vasectomy patient somewhere will have the time to tell me what it is like. Some epatient will be willing to spend an hour talking to me about what it meant to them to have this procedure. I can talk with patients who had a good experience, I can talk to patients who had a bad experience. I will have access to insights that my urologist does not have, and most importantly does not have time to discuss with me in any case.
For whatever reason, the epatient community centers around Twitter. More than likely this is because of the fundamentally open nature of this network. Although it is possible to “protect” tweets, most account holders tend to tweet to the whole world. If you are interested in a particular health-related issue, you can use Twitter to find the group of people who are discussing that issue. Twitter is a natural way for people who are connected by a common thought or issue to organize. Facebook, on the other hand, is about connecting with people you already know. The famous quote applies: “Facebook is about people you used to know; Twitter is about people you’d like to know better.” You could change that quote to read “Twitter is about people you’d like to know who have had vasectomies.”
There are people on Twitter right now discussing very personal health issues. All you need to experience this is to do a little research to understand what hashtag a community is using to connect with each other. For instance:
I intentionally chose diseases that are not easy to discuss in person. Discussion on these delicate issues between people dealing with these problems happens all the time on Twitter. Very often Twitter is the place to find and meet people who are dealing with the same healthcare issues that you are, and then discover another place on the web where patients with similar conditions are gathering and helping each other. For better or worse, Twitter has become a kind of peer-to-peer healthcare marketplace. I think this is about a billion times more interesting than surgeons who update families via Twitter, although that is cool, too.
At Health 2.0 or the OSCON healthcare track, these kinds of insights are regarded as somewhat obvious. It is obvious that patients are seeking each other out using social media technologies and that this must somehow eventually be reconciled with the process that doctors are just undertaking to computerize medicine. But at HIMSS this is a revolutionary idea. HIMSS is full of old-school EHR vendors who are applying technology that was cutting edge in 1995 to 2012 problems. HIMSS is full of hospital administrators who recognize that their biggest barrier to meaningful use dollars is not an EHR, but the fact that 50% of their nurses do not know how to type.
I can promise you that the following conversation will be happening thousands of times in the main hall at HIMSS before Biz Stone speaks:
Attendee 1: Who is this speaking?
Attendee 2: Biz Stone.
Attendee 1: Who is that?
Attendee 2: One of the founders of Twitter.
Attendee 1: What is Twitter?
For this audience, Biz Stone talking about how Twitter revolutionizes healthcare will be electric. I wish I could be there.
Fred Trotter is a recognized expert in Free and Open Source medical software and security systems and is the author of Meaningful Use and Beyond: A Guide for IT Staff in Health Care. He has spoken on those subjects at the SCALE DOHCS conference, LinuxWorld, DefCon and is the MC for the Open Source Health Conference. He has been quoted in multiple articles on Health Information Technology in several print and online journals, including WIRED, zdnet, Government Health IT, Modern Healthcare, Linux Journal, Free Software Magazine, NPR and LinuxMedNews. This post first appeared on O’Reilly Radar.