Health Memes Again

One of my stints in the US was in the early nineties when I lived in Baltimore MD, at that time the shootingest city in the Union. My daily (bus) commute from South Baltimore across North Avenue to Johns Hopkins University was an eye-opening tour across the strata of American society. First Lady Hillary Clinton was pushing her pet project for universal healthcare in the US, which actually gained quite a bit of traction and certainly got the whole country talking. NPR ran endless reports comparing US health standards with European. But then some Republican stood up and said “you can’t have universal healthcare, that’s…Socialism!“. The public response was unequivocal:

“Oh yeah, we forgot. Sorry…”

Twenty years later, the USSA seems to be waking from its long healthcare slumber and taking some action – perhaps emboldened by having recently nationalised all the banks. This time, Information Technology seems to have a strong role to play as the discussion encompasses electronic medical records (EMR) and the part that IT can play in making healthcare work more efficiently.

Clearly this is a lofty and worthy goal for IT, but there are also some really interesting technical aspects to the application of IT to EMR. There are the hard-nosed “enterprise” requirements for scalability, reliability and security across a complex and distributed system-of-systems. Add to this our experiences from “Social Software” and the role it can play in helping different parties – physicians and patients – collaborate on maintaining accurate medical records. Knowledge Management, Semantic Web and Decision Systems also have a contribution in helping to automate decisions and discovery in a highly technical, specialised and always-changing field. EMR has it all!

So it’s not surprising to see a lot of discussion on this topic in the blogosphere. A few interesting references recently:

First welcome back Adam Bosworth with a series of great posts on EHR to launch his latest venture. I missed Adam’s writings since 2005 when he disappeared into the Googleplex. Adam bolts out of the gate with ten posts in one day (I suspect he just discovered his network cable unplugged for the last three weeks).

John Udell presents an interesting podcast with Peter O’Toole discussing Electronic Medical Records and (among other things) the application of expert systems to aid the entry of specialised data.

Finally (but not least and I think not last), Robert Cringley starts a series on the application of IT and complex systems theory to medical records.

Certainly an interesting area to watch with ramifications not only in the US, but certainly in Australia and across much of the western world where healthcare reform and efficiency is firmly on the agenda.


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