The Internet: The Answer to All of Our Problems

The most exciting and far-reaching innovation of the last half century is the Internet. It has impacted all aspects of our life.

The most exciting and far-reaching innovation of the last half century is the Internet. It has impacted all aspects of our life, including travel, shopping, education, socializing and romance, arts and literature, news media, music, movies, and almost anything else you can think of. We now shop through the internet, take distant learning courses, meet potential matches, buy and enjoy art, and read, write and print our own books from the internet. When was the last time you used a travel agent to book a flight or a hotel room?

The internet is the answer to all of our problems. People now take computers to the bathroom instead of books or magazines. A typical airport scene is people linking through laptops, PDA’s, Blackberries, or whatever else they are able to afford. Even during the flights, I am seeing more and more people turning on their laptops as soon as “electronics” are allowed to be switched on. The internet may even be a major player in deciding the next American President. While it may sound like I have changed career paths and become an internet salesperson, I’m actually trying to make a point. As a physician, I am still not seeing the extent to which internet can influence patient care. The internet has not yet lived to its promise and potential in healthcare.

Let us take the example of some IT solutions being sold in the market. These are all, unfortunately, more physician- or hospital-focused, rather than patient-focused. These solutions try to make “sign out” better, or alert for “core measures” or PQRI. Some help billing and coding, some churn out order sets, others produce formatted H&P’s and progress notes. But all these tools are designed to make the life of a physician or busy hospital executive better. What about a patient-focused or patient-based internet tool, where patient can read indicators about his or her quality of care, or have decision analysis tools based on his or her diagnosis, or able to communicate with his or her physician whenever necessary? While there may be potential of abuse here, but there are also just as many ways to prevent it. One encouraging step was taken by CMS in providing information about hospitals. But if you visit websites like “hospital compare,” you will find that they are not very user-friendly for an 80 year old who probably needs it more than anyone else. Other payers are lagging far behind. Some of it could be due to the inherent culture of secrecy and hiding data from consumers, but I suspect a lot of it is due to lack of imagination, resources and time. This is obviously not a straight forward book of business with a clearly defined margin.

We all face situations where we see patients and try to treat them in a knowledge vacuum. No background information, no past history, no idea about their allergies, life style, or prior medications. One would have expected a rapid move in this direction to arm healthcare providers with a data base where physicians can access patient history, while simultaneously providing all due respects to patient privacy, implications for life insurance, etc.