Rethinking Healthcare

Give medicine access to PC standards

Posting in Government

You expect perfect security, perfect privacy, and perfect performance from medical solutions. The industry tries to give it to you, but in the process it isolates itself, rendering everything proprietary and expensive.

A half-dozen years ago I began looking at applications, based on WiFi, that might live in the air.

I saw home automation applications. I saw inventory applications (so you can find your stuff) and I saw a host of medical applications, which I called the "killer apps."

(Picture from Microsoft HealthVault.)

Those days are not yet here.

Medical device makers are tiptoeing toward wireless, but they insist on using frequencies dedicated to their devices. As hospital use of WiFi increases they want devices in nearby frequency bands, like cell phones, banned.

This is not the only area where medicine resists open standards.

  1. Health IT vendors remain mired in the 1970s, leading some to compare the President's efforts to modernize the sector to Vietnam.
  2. Major vendors remain wedded to CPT codes, controlled by the AMA, that are proprietary and thus prevent the adoption of open source and open standards.
  3. Insurers refuse to support solutions based on PC technology, requiring that they be divorced from other functions.

It's not just the stupid of insurance companies, as Roger Ebert complains.

It's a stupid shared by the entire medical-industrial complex -- doctors, hospitals, insurers, vendors, government. Medical solutions must be dedicated, they must be unique, they must be single-taskers, they must be proprietary.

So who is to blame for this state of affairs? After years of research I have an answer.

You are.

You expect perfect security, perfect privacy, and perfect performance from medical solutions. You expect audit trails on your medical records that make integration impossible. You expect perfection, and the industry tries to give it to you, but in the process it isolates itself, rendering everything proprietary and expensive.

This is an attitude that will be hard to beat back.

The government's health reform agenda includes a commission that will recommend efficiencies in Medicare, which could include use of PC standards. The committee defining "meaningful use," a key to gaining stimulus cash, has so far resisted industry efforts to mandate proprietary solutions, but the battle is not won.

In fact that battle has just begun.

Every industry, as its use of computing matures, eventually moves toward industry standards. It happened in law, it happened in manufacturing, it happened in publishing.

It has not happened, yet, in medicine.

But if you really want the cost curve bent downward, you should demand that it does. You can do that regardless of whether you're liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. Want true bipartisan health reform? Industry standards are where it's at.

You can start that effort by supporting Personal Health Records (PHRs) like those of Google Health or Microsoft HealthVault, and stop whinging that "Google wants to sell your data" (or that Microsoft does). They don't. They have said they won't by contract. Those who refuse to accept this have an agenda and (I believe) they don't have your interests at heart.

By supporting PHRs, you support your right to your own data. You support liberating data from proprietary systems and placing it under industry standards. You support integrating your health with the world of the Web, and the benefits such industry standards can deliver to you.

So what about it?

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure