3 posts from October, 2008

Should You Share Your Health Information Online?

Posted October 24th, 2008 by

Openness.  Privacy.  These philosophies stand in direct opposition in the question of which is better for consumer health.  Should people be open with their health information or private?  Certainly there are times for both, right?

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Not according to some privacy advocates.  On October 22, 2008, Deven McGraw from the Center for Democracy and Technology cited a survey on their blog entitled “National Dialogue on Health Information Technology and Privacy” that 67% of respondents were either “somewhat” or “very concerned” about the privacy of their personal medical records.  A glass half-full perspective would say that one-third of respondents think openness is appropriate, at least somewhat.  McGraw summed up the post this way:

Without appropriate protections for privacy and security in the healthcare system, patients will withhold information from the health care providers – or decide not to seek treatment – because of fears about how their personal health information could be misused. Ignoring concerns about privacy – or inadequately address[ing] them – will significantly threaten public trust in these new e-health technologies, and in our overall healthcare system.

It may be a stretch to say make a blanket statement that patients will decide not to seek treatment based on fears about how their information would be used.  Let’s hear from patients themselves.  We asked members of our Multiple Sclerosis community to respond to this statement in our forum.  Here are excerpts from some of their responses:

1. I would withhold info or not seek care due to privacy concerns.  I was thrown into MS and was very forthcoming with everyone, including my former employer.  If I had to do it all over again, I would keep my mouth shut, with the exception of telling my family.  I like the anonymous nature of PLM.  I don’t include my full name so I’m comfortable in noting my dx and symptoms.

2. unfortunately, there really isn’t enough privacy anymore. I just figure to heck with it. If they really want my info they’ll find a way to get it anyways.

3. I believe the benefits of participating in a health care system using online records outweigh privacy concerns. What privacy? Given the resources, anyone can find out anything about my background.

4. Like many, I have mixed feelings about this.  Working in healthcare, I know that there is a HUGE advantage to having all your medical info readily available to any provider.  I can think of many times where I’ve had a patient who couldn’t tell me their history, or what meds they’re taking, and struggling to figure out what was going on.  On the other hand, I also know, from personal experience, that having unauthorized people get access to your health info can have major negative consequences.

5. That [online medical records is] inevitable is probable,but I still believe that we should have the right to say who knows what,when,and if about ourselves.Its about freedom of choice,will and about human dignity!

6. My medical records are open, wanna see? Just look at PLM!!!!!

What a popular question!  We got dozens of responses in less then 24 hours.  What we found is that the one-in-three ratio holds.  Of our patient member responses, two out of three have either not sought treatment or wouldn’t seek treatment because of privacy concerns.  The other third believes that privacy doesn’t exist or doesn’t help people.  Although anecdotal, this is quite a finding and reflects what we believe to be the true nature of this debate:  There are times for openness and times for privacy.  Patients simply want control over when each is employed.

Do we ultimately know that sharing health information online is “safe”?  We answer that question in one of our FAQs, but the short answer is we don’t know.  Yes, there are risks that information will be misused.  But what we also know is that there is a benefit/risk equation for people and their health.  And when research is slow and treatment options are scarce, patients turn to each other for help and support.  They can’t wait 10 years or more for traditional clinical research.  Sharing becomes the best option.  The internet then becomes the most powerful medium to share information, identify new best practices, and ultimately create new medical evidence.

Our Openness Philosophy discusses how sharing health information is actually a way to democratize health data for the benefit of all stakeholders, patients, physicians, researchers, caregivers, and industry as well.  We can’t answer the question for you posed in the title.  Only you can decide if sharing health information online is for you.  We just want to give you the opportunity if and when you’re ready.

We would love to hear what you think!  Continue the conversation by leaving us a comment.

PatientsLikeMe member dwilliams


Health 2.0: Where do we go from here?

Posted October 10th, 2008 by

h20nelogo971510_std.jpgA few nights ago, I was honored to give a keynote at the second Health 2.0 Northeast conference held right here in our Cambridge, MA backyard.  It’s exciting to see old friends and new emerging start-ups coming together to try and make a dent in the $2 trillion industry that is healthcare in the U.S.  In the world of Health 2.0, we have a lot of great opportunities to impact healthcare in a positive way, including shaking things up and putting patients back at the center.  With so many new and promising companies emerging in the space (many in attendance at the Boston event), we have to start thinking about what happens next.  How can we really make change, and what changes need to be made?

trailtoprofitability-1.png I believe we, as the eHealth community, need to focus on two major goals:  1) solve patients’ problems, and 2) create business models that allow us to do #1.  The PatientsLikeMe business model is straightforward.  We build online communities where patients share structured information about their disease to help themselves and others.  In turn, we make money by selling that data.  We are open with our patients about how and why we sell this data (and specifically what data we sell).  They understand this exchange and they’re all for it. “Sell, sell, sell” someone recently wrote in a discussion about our business model.  Why?  Because they know our goal in selling is to help pharmaceuticals companies, medical device companies, healthcare providers, and others in the industry learn more about patients.  We’re giving those companies the kind of information that can help improve the products/services they’re creating for patients.

I don’t want to prognosticate about what types of business models will work for all Health 2.0 companies as the industry evolves (because, ultimately, this is an evolution).  It’s up to each company to figure that out.  I do believe that there’s no wrong path when you keep both those goals in your sights.  Help patients, and create business models to do that.  Moving forward as a company and as an industry, that’s exactly what we need to do.  Now let’s get back to work…

PatientsLikeMe member bheywood