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Doctors and Disaster Relief: the Value of Technology and Data for HealthTap

Posted on February 2, 2016 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://radar.oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

In November 2015, when Tamil areas of southwestern India suffered from serious monsoon-related flooding that killed hundreds and caused the major city Chennai to essentially shut down for a week, local residents asked for help from an unusual source: HealthTap, the online service that offers medical advice and concierge care. This article explains the unique technical and organizational resources HealthTap offered, making it a valuable source of information for anyone in the disaster area with a cell phone or Internet access. At the end I will ask: what can public health institutions do to replicate HealthTap’s success in aiding the people of Chennai?

Disaster response from an unusual quarter
HealthTap, an online service connecting doctors and patients, has grown gradually but steadily in scope over the five years since its launch. It began by providing personalized answers, directly from practicing doctors, to individuals dealing with routine health issues such as pregnancy. HealthTap supported an ever-growing library of answers and continually added new services, leading to a concierge service. It expanded its services for doctors as well, providing easy consultations and discussion forums. It added a corporate (B-to-B) service that companies could offer to all their employees. And now, generalizing from their experience in Chennai, they have launched HealthTap SOS for disaster relief.

The Chennai intervention was requested by one of HealthTap’s clients, a company called Flex that had some employees in Chennai. When HealthTap started looking around for doctors in its network who had flood-related expertise, it turned up so much useful help that even the HealthTap leadership was surprised. CEO Ron Gutman explained to me that many doctors grew up in India, perhaps even got their degrees and practiced there, then moved to the US and joined HealthTap’s network. They are now able to help their country and local communities without actually traveling back.

HealthTap then discovered that their 85,000 doctors, located primarily in the United States, have come from 101 countries. Many languages are spoken, and many doctors intimately understand the cultures of other countries, as well as the medical conditions and disaster-related problems faced in them. HealthTap even organized psychiatrists and psychologists to advise and calm residents in the disaster area.

The organizational and technical elements of marshalling expertise
Public health and disaster agencies have networks of experts too, of course. But Gutman explained that these institutions can’t maintain a network as large and diverse as HealthTap just to prepare for occasional disasters. HealthTap’s strength is that it can redeploy a network developed to handle everyday medical conditions and turn it into a resource for communities struck by flooding or other disasters.

Doing so depends on the generosity and humane response of the doctors, of course, but it also requires a detailed understanding of the expertise offered by each of the 85,000 doctors in the network. According to HealthTap, they obtained crucial information on disaster recovery through crowdsourcing: they reached out to their network and asked the doctors to provide tips and checklists for managing during disaster situations. This turned up an abundance of information and offers to help.

Thus, HealthTap exemplifies the highly connected, intelligent expert network described in Beth Simone Noveck’s book Smart Citizens, Smarter State: The Technologies of Expertise and the Future of Governing. Such a network is more than a loose association of people in a given discipline: it is highly structured using details provided by individuals about themselves, or information collected from routine interactions.

In addition to this information-rich database of physicians, HealthTap has developed another technical advantage–once again, a set of tools they developed rigorously over time to facilitate routine care, but that also proves invaluable in emergencies. Their sophisticated search service can turn up information quickly that is relevant to the person logged into the system, based on information that the person reveals about himself or herself. HealthTap’s rating system (similar to those used on travel sites or other crowdsourced recommendation systems) brings up the best information out of millions of potential answers in their database. Although most of the Chennai residents asking for help found answers quickly in HealthTap’s database, HealthTap can also connect a person quickly with a clinician for one-to-one service. Because of the immense value of personalization, HealthTap suggests that public health workers set up an account with HealthTap before emergencies develop (an account they offer for a very modest charge).

General lessons
HealthTap did a great thing in Chennai, and their SOS service promises to be widely useful, especially in a world increasingly hit by climate change. But a private company such as HealthTap shouldn’t be the only institution with these resources for public health. Public agencies should take a leaf from Noveck’s book to set up expert networks with background on potentially useful experts.

Public health agencies already offer information during emergencies over the phone, broadcast media (do you ever hear “The following is just a test” announcements on the radio?), and popular information dissemination networks such as Twitter, but they could collect more information (voluntarily) from residents and allow them to connect to experts to answer specific questions when there is a need. For instance, if you depend on a medication and are running low in the aftermath of a major storm, you could find out from a specialist how to cope without it.

Technology and modern social organization offer a lot of tools to help the world deal with emergencies. Consider the well-known Ushahidi service, created in 2008 to coordinate input from local residents suffering from political violence and now used in a variety of situations. OpenStreetMap has also served disaster relief, used as resource along with Ushahidi during the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Public health agencies can learn from organizations such as these, along with HealthTap, to save lives.

Meet Steve Sisko (aka @HITConfGuy and @ShimCode) – #GoesBeyond

Posted on January 28, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The healthcare IT recruiters at Greythorn (Full Disclosure: Greythorn pays to post jobs on our Healthcare IT Central job board), have started to share stories on a new hashtag called #GoesBeyond. As part of this effort, they’re highlighting people in healthcare IT who go above and beyond and deliver something special. Check out this great #GoesBeyond featuring Regina Holliday to see what I mean. I’m all about the idea of recognizing people who are doing great work and contributing to healthcare IT in a way that goes above and beyond, so I thought I’d join in on the fun.

Over the past couple years I’ve been impressed by the work of Steve Sisko and his efforts to go above and beyond on social media. If you don’t work in the payer world, you might not know the name Steve Sisko, but if you participate in healthcare social media you probably do know Steve’s aliases @HITConfGuy and @ShimCode. Not only is Steve prolific on social media, but the quality of information he provides is off the charts. I’m always amazed how quickly Steve can pull up a high quality resource during Twitter chats or other social media engagements.

As part of Steve’s creation of the @HITConfGuy Twitter account, he also launched the blog HITConfGuy.com. On this blog Steve provides his unique mix of humor and high quality content to both entertain and inform those of us who spend time at healthcare IT conferences. However, I believe that Steve’s posts on HIT Conf Guy are even more valuable to those who don’t spend their time traveling to healthcare IT conferences as part of their career.

A great example of this is Steve’s 30 tips for attending the HIMSS 2016 conference in Las Vegas. This is so chalk full of tips, I just laugh when I see other people trying to post about tips for #HIMSS16. I think to myself, Steve’s already posted all the tips you need and he’s likely done it better than what others throw together last minute. You might also want to check out his post on social sharing at healthcare IT conferences like HIMSS and you’ll bust a gut laughing at his useful (and some not so useful, but funny) Totally Unofficial HIMSS Hashtag guide.

Beyond all his work providing tips, tricks, and humor around healthcare IT conferences, Steve has spent countless hours curating what I’d call his list of healthcare IT lists. If you’re looking for who to follow in healthcare social media, his lists can help you. If you want a list of healthcare IT resources, he likely has one. He even put in an extremely large amount of time into filtering through the mass of #HIT99 tweets to create the #HIT99 list.

The most amazing part of all of these efforts by Steve is that he doesn’t get paid anything to do it. Maybe he has some longer term aspiration of making these efforts into a business (I don’t know either way), but to date he’s done all of this to contribute to the healthcare IT community. In fact, I’ve often heard Steve bristle at some of the things that happen on social media that were so revenue driven. Steve really does want to improve healthcare.

That’s why I’m highlighting Steve Sisko for #GoesBeyond. I hope many others who read this will take part in the #GoesBeyond effort and highlight other people in the healthcare IT community that deserve recognition.

About #GoesBeyond
In this series, writers take time thank an individual who #GoesBeyond expectations to make an impact in their community or industry. Read other posts in this series on LinkedIn and Twitter, then write one of your own on your favorite blog, LinkedIn pulse, Medium or other platform. Use #GoesBeyond and @mention the person who has made such a big difference, then copy this paragraph so others know how they can participate, too.

The EMR and the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Posted on January 19, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Today I was included on what I’d consider a tweetstorm about the EMR and they ways it can impede the Doctor-Patient relationship. I thought many of you would find his comments interesting and might want to add to and extend his comments.

Those are some strong opinions? While I’d love to visit his office, I don’t really need to visit it. I’ve seen many doctors not use the computer in the exam room so they could focus on the patient. In fact, I’ve seen the whole spectrum of computer use in the exam room from a lot to none. My conclusion is similar to the one that Amy Hamilton described here. The setup can really impact the experience of the patient.

I do agree with Dr. Ashinsky that many doctors are spending too much time on the data/computer and not enough time on the patient. That doesn’t mean that the data isn’t important, but many have taken it too far.

What do you think? Does the computer get in the way of he doctor-patient relationship?

Eric Topol tweeted one suggestion:

Healthcare IT Vendor Blogs

Posted on December 24, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

After 10 years and 9404 blog posts later, I’ve come to know a little something about blogs. You might also say that I’m totally bias about the power of a well written blog. The reality is that blogging is just a simple way for anyone to publish content online. Blogging has really opened up the opportunity to publish great content to everyone.

With that said, it’s not easy sustaining a blog with great content. The tyranny of time is real and however far ahead you get on your blog, time will eat that away before you can blink your eye. It takes a real commitment to keep a blog up to date with regular content.

To honor some of these efforts, I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite healthcare IT vendor blogs. It’s great to acknowledge the effort these vendors put into creating great content. Sure, they likely want to get more exposure for their companies. That’s a given, but that doesn’t diminish that many healthcare IT vendors are creating amazing free content on a regular basis on their blogs. Here’s a quick look at a few that I enjoy.

Information Advantage Blog by Iron Mountain – This blog focuses deeply on the challenge of health information management and topics such as: health information governance, medical records scanning, health data storage, etc. Those in the AHIMA and HIM community will really enjoy the blog, but there’s a little something for anyone interested in healthcare IT.

HL7 Standards by Corepoint Health – Most of you are likely familiar with this blog since it’s the home of the #HITsm Twitter chat. They post the host and topics for each week’s #HITsm chat, but they do much more. The HL7 Standards blog has a wide variety of amazing healthcare IT content from a diverse group of guest bloggers. They rarely put up a post that’s not worth a read.

Kareo Blog by Kareo – The Kareo blog is home to Kareo product updates and the #KareoChat, but they also regularly post some great content. Kareo has long been the advocate for the independent small practice physician. Therefore, you can imagine that their content is all focused around that audience.

CloudView Blog by athenahealth – This blog is a reflection of the athenahealth CEO, Jonathan Bush. You never know what to expect. No doubt Jonathan Bush has created a culture at athenahealth that’s trying to push boundaries and we often see that reflected on the athenahealth blog. In fact, the best posts on the athenahealth blog come from Jonathan Bush himself. I also love that the CEO of the company is present on the blog. Some might argue that it’s not really Jonathan writing the post, but when you read his posts it’s all Jonathan coming through in the message.

There are many more great healthcare vendor blogs out there. If you have some favorites or ones I should check out, please share them in the comments. If we get enough recommendations we’ll do a follow up post featuring other healthcare IT vendor blogs.

Enjoy the light reading this holiday weekend!

Full Disclosure: I’ve written a few posts over the years for the Kareo and Iron Mountain blogs.

PHR Interaction with Doctors, A Shakespearean Tangle, and an iPhone EHR

Posted on December 18, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I regularly like to do a post that highlights interesting tweets from around the EHR and Healthcare IT twittersphere. Plus, I add in a bit of my own commentary. I hope you enjoy.


We’ve all known this for a long time. Glad to see that most doctors are finally realizing it too. With that said, I think we still have a long way to go when it comes to how we interact with patients through a PHR. However, we’re finally getting comfortable with the idea.


You need this part of the link above to understand the tweet:

Is ownership of medical data or workflow a Shakespearean comedy (happy ending) or tragedy (sad ending). At this point in time, the end result is not clear nor can an ending really be predicted. However, recognizing the issues can help draw focus and hopefully influence a better outcome.

It’s a fun question to ask. I think for most people it will be a generally happy ending. We usually end up with the right thing after we’ve exhausted all of our options (to modify a similar famous quote about the US). My only caution is that there may not be an ending to this. It will likely be a battle that will rage forever with give and take that goes on at least for our lifetimes.


I found this tweet ironic since I’d just had some searches to my website looking for an iOS EHR. It might be worth linking to my previous Apple EHR post. DrChrono built its brand on the back of an iPad EHR, so this isn’t a surprise. Of course, the proof is in the pudding as they say. I’ll hold out my judgment until I can hear from the doctors who actually use their iPhone as their EHR. As for the comment in the tweet above, I’m not sure it changes everything. We’ll still hear plenty of complaints from doctors on Epic and Cerner that they can’t do their EHR on their iPhone.

What Does It Take to Create the Ideal Patient Experience? – #MyIdealPtExp

Posted on December 14, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

This new world of social media has created so many virtual friends for me. Over time I’ve had a chance to meet so many of them in person. While sometimes it’s a disappointment meeting someone in person, I’ve also had the opposite experience. This happened at RSNA when I got a chance to meet Andy DeLaO (@CancerGeek) in person. I’d always been impressed by his insightful tweets over the years. So, I was blown away when he was even more impressive and insightful in person. I love it when that happens.

One of the most impressive things he showed me was his new effort around what he calls My Ideal Patient Experience. He even had these really cool coins to hand out which was a great way for me to remember his concept:
My Ideal Patient Experience
Andy the team behind My Ideal Patient Experience has gone through the research and defined the patient experience using these 4 pillars:

  • Time
  • Trust
  • Transparency
  • Transitions

However, it’s worth considering the connective tissue between all 4 pillars:

Time Leads To Trust, Trust Leads To Transparency , Transparency Leads To Transitions; The 4t’s Lead To Relationships And Success!

Andy and his team have been at this for a while even though they’re just now getting their official patient experience website launched. I love that they’re even keeping track of their stats:

  • 50,850 Patients Impacted
  • 878 Physicians Engaged
  • 46 Clients Worked With
  • 30 Completed Projects

If you’re looking to improve the way you engage with patients or your patient experience, take a second to look at the consulting, market research, healthcare engagement, and education resources they offer. After my experience finally meeting Andy in person, I’m excited to see the impact for good “My Ideal Patient Experience” will have on healthcare. Plus, I look forward to digging into the concepts even more in the future.

A New Look at Plan of Care and Patient Instructions

Posted on October 30, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

If you don’t know Jess Jacobs, she’s a passionate patient advocate that use to work for the federal government. Although, she might be best known for her tweets from the hospital. If you scroll back through her Twitter feed, I’m sure you’ll find them.

Today Jess offered up this tweet to reframe our discussion on plans of care and patient instructions:

I’m sure that most doctors will mock these instructions, but it definitely illustrates a very different relationship between doctor and patient. How many doctors go to this extent to make sure that their patients are well? I’m sure many of them are asking “I’d love to go that deep with patients, but how do I get paid for it?”

I’ve regularly argued that we need deeper interactions with a healthcare professional if we want to be truly healthy and not just continue to treat the sicknesses we have. However, I don’t think these interactions will happen with a doctor. This type of relationship needs someone that’s more social worker than doctor.

Where will all this go? I’m not sure, but seeing these patient instructions sure caused me to rethink the doctor-patient relationship.

Patients Designing Their Own Health Care Journey

Posted on October 15, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

All across health care we see examples of patients starting to drive more of their health care decision making. This as all sorts of good and bad consequences, but I think it’s fair to say that this train has already left the station. I think that most of this shift is coming thanks to a massive increase in high deductible plans and easily accessible health information.

As part of the next evolution in patient involvement in their care, I was fascinated to discover patients designing their own health care experience in what they’re calling a d-Patient (a take off of the popular e-Patient). The movement is inspired and led by Katie McCurdy and her story.

The second in the series of D-Patient stories comes from Logan Merriam. Logan has Crohn’s Disease and had been battling this chronic disease for many years when he came to this realization:

I’ve realized that I am the only person who will prioritize the symptoms I care about, and I need to be responsible for solving them. And as it turns out, I’m also the foremost expert on my illness.

He then goes on to describe how he was able to better communicate his health challenges to his doctor:

At one point I was frustrated by a particular medication that was ping-ponging me back and forth between its side effects and my Crohn’s symptoms. I tried, clumsily, to explain the rollercoaster I was experiencing without much success. At the time I was getting my degree in graphic design, so finally I opened Adobe Illustrator, drew a graph of the situation, and emailed my gastroenterologist to show him what I was feeling:
Crohn's Disease Roller Coaster

This image immediately helped his doctors to be on the same page as him and start looking at options to solve his problems. Plus, he says that it forced him to codify and understand the problem himself.

You can go read the rest of his story here, but it leads to Logan designing his own health app called Flaredown including a successful Indiegogo campaign. What great examples of patients deciding not to wait. They’re starting to take control of their health and that’s a great thing. I love patients who are respectfully involved in their health care. The best doctors I know love it too.

Bold Insights from the #MGMA15 Keynote Kickoff

Posted on October 12, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Yesterday was the start of the MGMA Annual conference in Nashville. The event kicked off with a really great opening keynote from MGMA’s President and CEO Dr. Halee Fischer-Wright. While most keynotes from organization Presidents are boring and dry, I loved how candid and straight forward Dr. Fischer-Wright was in her comments. She definitely is pushing forward a new vision for the organization.

Here’s some highlights I tweeted from her keynote:


This reminds me of my post on EHR induced PTSD. I could have easily called that post Healthcare Buzzword induced PTSD.


Pretty brave of her to be so bold. I’ll be interested to hear people’s reactions.


I agree with her that Healthcare has changed, but I’d also argue that healthcare is still changing. That just compounds the problem.


I agree that apathy is an extraordinary challenge. Most doctors and healthcare professionals feel paralyzed and feel that they can’t do anything to make a difference or change the trajectory of where healthcare is headed. That’s a good thing since that’s a perception you can change. Apathy because people don’t care would be a much harder challenge.


This leads to some apathy as well, but also is converting to anger.

Needless to say I was impressed by Dr. Fischer-Wright. Appropriately, Jeremy Gutsche spoke after Dr. Fischer-Wright and commented about the need of organizations and people to take risks and fail. Much of the learning we get comes from taking risks and accepting that sometimes we’re going to fail. I think that’s where Dr. Fischer-Wright is taking the MGMA organization. She’s looking at big, ambitious goals. She might fail at some, but I predict that those that don’t fail are going to make a big difference.

Ways to Grow and Market Your Medical Practice – Healthcare Scene “Minute”

Posted on October 8, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

If you also read EMR and HIPAA (which you should), then you probably read that I hosted today’s #KareoChat where we discussed how to grow and market your medical practice. It was a lively discussion full of great insights.

After the chat, I decided it would be useful to hop on Periscope and share a Healthcare Scene “Minute” covering 4 insights into growing and marketing your practice that I gleaned from the chat. In case you missed it live, here’s the video recording below:

If you’d like to dive deeper into the topic, you can read the full transcript from today’s chat or check out the Storify that Kareo put together.

Let us know what you think about the 4 medical practice marketing insights I talk about in the video in the comments below.

Full Disclosure: Kareo is a Healthcare Scene advertiser.