These days, you hear a lot in the media about the dangers of digitizing personal information. Digitized health information is especially a concern for many critics because they worry that having the information online or in a database can lead to information leaks or even discrimination by insurers or by healthcare organizations.
However, having information online and digitizing health information has numerous benefits for the patients and for the physicians. Having data at the physician’s fingertips can lead to better health outcomes for patients and even save lives.
Gathers Data in One Place
In the old days of paper records, information about a single patient could be scattered throughout a hospital, or even throughout a city as each physician and department keeps its own records. To get a complete picture of a patient’s health, a physician would have had to order copies of records from each office.
Once she received the records, she would then have to be familiar with each physician’s system of record keeping. As a result, physicians did not know about the patient’s complete health history, important test results, or other information that could make a diagnosis significantly more obvious.
For example, an obstetrician may be left trying to figure out why a patient had recurring miscarriages when her cardiologist could have the information about her rare blood clotting disorder that could have been causing the problem. New data systems standardize data and record keeping and make it available all in one place, saving time, preventing tests from being repeated, and even saving lives.
Identifying Patients with Certain Characteristics
Data systems can analyze data across patients, identifying groups of patients with similar characteristics. This can help identify patients who are good candidates for new therapies or clinical trials. Identifying these patients may help to remove the volunteer bias from clinical trials, giving a better picture of the effectiveness of the medicine or therapy.
This same technology can help physicians choose tests that patients may need, which can help them with setting appointments and scheduling. In addition, physicians can track patients who have missed appointments and automatically send reminders to those patients to reschedule.
Comparing Health Outcomes
Another promising application for data sharing involved gathering symptom and health history data across patients in a given hospital or healthcare system. This system allows physicians to assess risk and identify possible health outcomes for a patient before they can happen. For example, physicians can identify patients with groups of symptoms or health events that may lead to problems and head off the problem before it occurs by prescribing treatments or ordering additional tests.
Easier Data Sharing
New crowdsourced applications allow patients to share information among themselves. For instance, patients with leukemia can discuss their symptoms and the various treatments that worked for them. In return for facilitating this discussion, the software company can gather data that can lead to more effective treatments.
This is especially valuable since medical trials of therapies often do not gather a representative sample of patients or can be constrained by practical concerns. Crowdsourcing allows patients undertaking a new therapy or taking a new medicine to give feedback without participating in a controlled trial.
Answering Physician Questions
No physician has time to read all of the medical literature available, even in their own fields. New applications compile this data for the physicians and make it available when and where they need it. Physicians can ask the program a specific question in natural language and receive and answer based on medical research. This allows patients to have better health outcomes because their physicians have access to all of the information about their condition instead of having to rely on their own memories.