A Facebook user’s timeline provides both a snapshot of who that user is and a historical record of the user’s activity on Facebook. My Facebook timeline is about me, and fittingly, I control it. It’s also one, single profile. Anyone I allow to view my timeline views my timeline—they don’t each create their own copies of it.
Intuitive, right? So why don’t medical records work that way? There is no unified, single patient record—every doctor I’ve ever visited has his or her own separate copy of my records. And in an age where we can conduct banking transactions on my smartphone, many patients still can’t access or contribute to the medical records their doctors keep for them.
My proposal? Medical records should follow Facebook’s lead.
“About” for Complete, Patient-Informed Medical History
On Facebook: The “about” section is the one that most closely resembles the concept of a user profile. It includes a picture selected by the user and lists information such as gender; relationship status; age, political and religious views; interests and hobbies; favorite quotes, books and movies; and free-form biographical information added by the user.
“Privacy Settings” and “Permissions” for Controlled Sharing
On Facebook: Privacy settings allow users to control who can see the information they post or that is posted about them. For example, in my general privacy settings I can choose to make my photos visible only to the people I’ve accepted as “friends.” However, if I post a photo I want the entire world to see, I can change the default setting for that photo to be visible publicly instead.
Facebook also allows users to grant “permissions” for outside applications to access their profiles. For example, let’s say I use TripAdvisor to read travel reviews. TripAdvisor lets me sign in to its site using my Facebook account, rather than creating a separate TripAdvisor account. But, to do this I must grant TripAdvisor “permission” to access my Facebook account.
example, if my aging mother wanted to give me access to her “events” (upcoming doctor’s appointments), she could do so. If my college-aged son who is still on my health plan wanted to give me access to his knee X-rays, he could.
Additionally, a patient could grant “permission” for other doctors to access their records. When I visit a new doctor, rather than signing a form granting my previous doctor permission to fax over copies of my records, I could simply grant permission electronically within the record–and presto! The new doctor would have instant online access.
On Facebook: “Status updates” let Facebook users broadcast what’s going on with them at a given moment. (For example, my status update might say: “I just had a great idea for improving medical records.”) A user’s latest status update appears toward the top of the timeline; older statuses can be viewed by scrolling through the timeline.
“Photos” for the Online Delivery of Test Results
On Facebook: Users can upload pictures they’ve taken. Photos are organized into albums that are visible on the user’s timeline. There’s also a special “photos” section where viewers of the timeline can go to see all of a user’s photo albums.
“Tagging” to Involve Other Parties and Track Common Themes
On Facebook: Users can “tag” other users to indicate their involvement with the content being posted. For example, when I post a picture of myself with a friend, I can “tag” the friend in that photo. This ties the photo to both our timelines instead of just mine. It also triggers a “notification” to the friend that she’s been tagged. She can remove the tag if she doesn’t wish for the photo to be tied to her timeline.
“Notifications” for Test Result Alerts, Medication Alerts, or Preventive Care Reminders
On Facebook: Users are alerted by red “notification” messages when another user writes them a message, posts a picture of them or otherwise interacts with their profile. These notifications are a way to make the user aware of interactions or information involving them.
“Check-Ins” to Denote Office Visits
On Facebook: Users can “check in” to places they’re currently visiting. For example, I could “check in” to the concert I’m at on a Saturday night. This would serve as both a status update and a record of my attendance of the concert. Photos can also be marked with places to record where they were taken.
“Friendships” to Track New Provider Relationships
On Facebook: Users can create “friendships” with other users when one party electronically requests a friendship and the other party electronically accepts. These friendships are marked on the user’s timeline (“Jane Doe is now friends with John Smith”) along with the date the online friendship was created.
“Events” to Track and Remind for Upcoming Appointments
On Facebook: Users can create online “events” to manage attendance and other details for in-person events. For example, I might create an event for the New Year’s party I plan to host, and I might invite my Facebook “friends” to that online event, where they could RSVP and receive reminders as the event date approaches.
It’s Time(line) for a Patient-Centric Medical Record
Dr. Rob Lamberts–a practicing physician, speaker, blogger, and health IT evangelist–tells me his biggest complaint with today’s digital record: “It’s not a patient-centered [medical record]; it’s payment-centered.” This he credits to the way the US health system has historically paid for healthcare, which is based on the volume of treatments rather than the quality of outcomes, requiring doctors to log complex medical codes into their EHRs.
Lamberts voices support for a timeline-like record, but he points out that the right incentives must be in place: “An improved record system like this would have to go hand-in-hand with a business model of medicine that benefited from it.” In other words, a business model which is patient-centric.
Luckily, this looks more like the direction the US health system is starting to take. Healthcare reimbursement models are slowly but surely shifting to reward physicians for better care instead of more care, and as that happens, technology providers will be incentivized to create solutions that align with that goal. Mine is to bring the magic of Facebook to medical records. But I’m open to other ideas that solve the patient-centric needs of tomorrow’s health ecosystem.