Starting this spring, some Spokanites will use Google not just to search the Web or check their e-mail, but to manage their health.
“The idea is to put health information in the hands of the consumers, the people who really need access to it and the people who should, legitimately, be controlling it,” says Inland Northwest Health Service’s Jac Davies. “We want to help people bring all [their health information] together in one place where they have easy access to it.”
Davies is leading a pilot project to set up what INHS is calling “1 Health Record,” an Internet-based health record bank funded by the state’s Health Care Authority. It’s a merger of two existing systems — INHS’s large-scale electronic medical records system and Google Health — to create a brand new tool for patients.
Using its $583,000 grant, INHS hopes to recruit upwards of 5,000 patients from Physicians Clinic of Spokane, Rockwood Clinic and Heart Clinics Northwest. These patients, whose medical records are already part of the INHS system, will create Google Health accounts and, with the help of INHS, unite the two data sets.
Dr. Brian Seppi, with the Physicians Clinic, says putting information into the hands of patients is the next logical step in health care reform.
“In health care reform, the driver is: How do you get information around more efficiently?” he says. “The personal health directive is the next progression, where the patient has more control over their health information. ... I think that’s where we’re headed, but it’s going to be hard because there are so many different systems. That’s why we’re doing this project: to gauge how different systems will talk to each other.”
It makes sense to let INHS lead the charge. Since 1994, the nonprofit has connected 38 hospitals, 450 clinics and 4,000 physicians in its health information network, which has about 2.8 million electronic medical records in its system. Thanks in large part to INHS’s actions, 18 Inland Northwest hospitals were recently named in the “100 Most Wired” hospitals by Hospitals and Health Networks magazine.
Regardless, constructing the INHS-Google Health behemoth is a large endeavor.
“Historically, all this information has been kept in silos: kept in a physician’s office, kept in a hospital or kept in the state immunization records. The patient may have a printout that they got from their physician’s office. Or they may have a little card in a drawer that they keep certain events recorded in their children’s lives. They may have other pieces of information. But those get harder and harder to track, especially when somebody gets a serious health condition,” Davies says. “This is a single place where I can put all the information that’s important to me about my health.”
Centralizing one’s health record has its benefits: ease of access for patient, physician and specialist. But there are some privacy and security concerns. It’s a problem that has faced ventures on the Internet since its invention. Unprecedented access to information includes the risk of revealing the information to somebody who is not supposed to see it. INHS spokeswoman Nicole Stewart says privacy concerns have been a major focus leading up to the launch of the project.
“You have your Google account. You log in there and start entering your personal health information. But there is another level of security where our interface interacts [with Google Health], where it says ‘Import medical records,’” Stewart says. “Once you click on the ‘1 Health Record’ button, it will then take you to the interface that INHS has created. We’re working right now with physicians and consumers on the specific measures needed to ensure privacy and security.”
The project, which is funded through June by the HCA but will continue indefinitely with INHS funding, will focus first on a patient’s prescriptions and allergies. In fact, Walgreens already has an application on Google Health to help manage prescription medications. But accessing this information from any computer with Internet access could prove indispensable in today’s mobile society.
“I just talked with somebody who has a college student that went abroad and had a medical incident,” Stewart says. “For her to find the medical history was difficult. It would have been easier for her to go online, go to Google Health, pull it up and print the summary: Here’s what I’m on. Here’s what I’m allergic to. But she had to find immunization records and all of that.”
The goal of the project is to provide easier access to health information. But most importantly, the project’s ultimate aim is to improve the delivery of care.
“If I have a much better understanding of my health information, then I have a much better understanding of my health,” Davies says.