Most people probably saw the story a few days ago in The Wall Street Journal, which was then picked up by nightly news and other outlets, about pharmacists using the Internet to improve hypertension control. Physicians and researchers, concerned about the high rate of uncontrolled hypertension among patients who are taking medication, decided to try a new method.
Kaiser Permanente Colorado tested a home-based monitoring system; they used blood pressure cuffs connected to computers (and the Internet) via USB to help patients monitor themselves at home. Pharmacists could then securely look at the patient's progress and recommend dosage changes to their doctors without requiring a patient visit in-clinic. The results were promising.
This isn't the first time the Web has been used to facilitate easier access to medical help. Despite futuristic visions of the potential for Web-enabled medicine, however, the current trends are toward the gathering of basic medical data, including a limited amount of Web-enabled information from medical monitoring.
Probably the earliest and most well-known online medical site is the popular WebMD. The information portal is the most-visited medical Website online. The Web has no shortage of natural and homeopathic medical sites, either.
Of course, the old-fashioned face-to-face visit with your doctor is probably never going to go away, but it can be augmented and personalized through more interaction via technology's enabling communication.
Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), for example, has online software called Google Health that allows users to organize their health information online for use with their doctors, healthcare facilities, and pharmacies. Google and has teamed with IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) to broaden the scope of Google Health with support for integrated applications and even monitoring devices. Google Health integrates with your Google login and is focused on privacy. But so far, the service is not widely used by members of the medical profession.
Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) has software called HealthVault, an online data vault into which personal health data from various compatible devices can be stored. The software gives output that both the user and their physician can use to track progress and is more commonly used than Google Health, but still in its infancy as well. Common devices that can be plugged into (or wirelessly transmit to) HealthVault include blood pressure cuffs, scales, heart-rate and heartbeat duration monitors, and even blood-sugar monitors.
David Cerino, general manager of Microsoft's Health Solutions Group, says that his company is targeting a "fundamental gap" in the healthcare process. That gap is the "lack of information flow between the hospital, the patient and the patient's care team outside the hospital."
What we're seeing with Google Health and HealthVault is likely just the first generation of these Web-enabled medical tools. As doctors become more connected to their patients with home-monitoring systems like this, and as medical facilities more readily embrace electronic records, the tools will become more common.
Speaking to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference in early March, chairman Dr. Barry Chaiken articulated the need for electronic medical records and interaction: "We must create electronic systems so appealing that they make physicians want to leave their paper medical records behind," Dr. Chaiken said. "We must create clinical decision support systems that make it routine for physicians to check their internal knowledge with data and evidence. We must offer workflow solutions that improve the efficiency of using health IT. We must make physicians want, yes, demand, the enormous power that IT brings to the practice of medicine."
Chaiken wants to go to a "higher level of medical practice, one where both physicians and nurses can concentrate on examining, interacting, and motivating patients while technology handles the burdens of collecting, storing, and accessing data."
This vision of interconnected patients, doctors, nurses, and hospitals is currently mostly science fiction, but as technology (and our acceptance of it) improves, so will this vision as a reality.
— Craig Agranoff is an entrepreneur and national social media consultant as well as a published specialist in online reputation management and monitoring.