The Immortal Life of Healthcare IT

Posted on September 5, 2012 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

As any one of my family or friends will tell you, I’m a voracious reader. I’ll read anything I can get my hands on – blogs, online news, books, magazines. I’ll even confess that after a week of keeping up with healthcare IT editorial, I typically enjoy a good, diverting issue of Entertainment Weekly on the weekend. Having an e-reader in the house has only increased my propensity to check out books from my local library, thanks to its new e-book lending program. Mobile technology has certainly aided and abetted my habit.

That being said, I find myself juggling two books right now – “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot (great New York Times book review here); and “Healthcare Business Intelligence: a Guide to Empowering Successful Data Reporting and Analytics,” by Laura B. Madsen. One is for pleasure, while the other is to help me better understand the buzz behind BI. Both have much to say on the subject of healthcare. In the simplest of terms, they are two sides of the same coin. Skloot’s work of non-fiction tells the tale of what happens when patients and their families are kept in the dark, while Madsen’s guide denotes the possibilities that come with dissecting data in meaningful ways for patient benefit – freeing information, if you will, from silos for the benefit of better clinical outcomes.

I’m not too far into The Immortal Life, but one paragraph has jumped out at me in light of the current state of heightened patient engagement in healthcare:

“… like most patients in the 1950s, she deferred to anything her doctors said. This was a time when ‘benevolent deception’ was a common practice – doctors often withheld even the most fundamental information from their patients, sometimes not giving them any diagnosis at all. They believed it was best not to confuse or upset patients with frightening terms they might not understand, like cancer. Doctors knew best, and most patients didn’t question that.”

My how times are changing. (Granted, you’d hope that in 60+ years they would.) Patients are seeking information out before they even think to call their doctor. And they are no longer afraid to question diagnoses, or even obtain second opinions. Patients are becoming more interested in the value of their care – is the financial outlay worth the result? And some are beginning to wonder when their doctors will catch up.

By pure coincidence, HIMSS is asking the question “How will health IT make a difference a year from now at the next National Health IT Week?” as part of its first annual blog carnival, in an effort to highlight the week’s activities and reflect on the strides healthcare IT has made in the six preceding years the event has been held.

I would have to say that as the next year passes, we’ll see healthcare IT increase patient engagement – digital or otherwise. More doctors will implement EHRs, participate in HIEs, sign up for ACOs. Along the way, they’ll find themselves confronted with patients who are used to having instant access to up-to-the-minute information on everything, and who think access to their personal health information should be no different.

Couple this with the increasing consumerization of healthcare and IT – be it the new iPhone, the smaller iPad, fitness and weight-loss apps, cars that help you keep up with your quantified self, and other gadgets that let you “check your body as often as your email,” and you’ve got a population of patients ripe for aiding and abetting this transformation of healthcare we’ve been hearing so much about.

How interesting it is to think that Henrietta Lacks’ cells are still alive today to inadvertently be a part of this movement, when she herself was kept in the dark by the systemic problems of a society that never thought to question its care.