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Concrete Problems: Experts Caution on Construction of Digital Health Superhighway

By MICHAEL MILLENSON

If you’re used to health tech meetings filled with go-go entrepreneurs and the investors who love them, a conference of academic technology experts can be jarring.

Speakers repeatedly pointed to portions of the digital health superhighway that sorely need more concrete – in this case, concrete knowledge. One researcher even used the word “humility.”

The gathering was the annual symposium of the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA). AMIA’s founders were pioneers. Witness the physician featured in a Wall Street Journal story detailing his use of “advanced machines [in] helping diagnose illness” – way back in 1959.

That history should provide a sobering perspective on the distinction between inevitable and imminent (a difference at least as important to investors as intellectuals), even on hot-button topics such as new data uses involving the electronic health record (EHR). 

I’ve been one of the optimists. Earlier this year, my colleague Adrian Gropper and I wrote about pending federal regulations requiring providers to give patients access to their medical record in a format usable by mobile apps. This, we said, could “decisively disrupt medicine’s clinical and economic power structure.”

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