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2.0 Meetings On Health 2.0

2.0 Meetings On Health 2.0

May 7, 2008

First: What is Health 2.0?

According to "The Wisdom of Patients: Health Care Meets Online Social Media," issued by the California HealthCare Foundation, it is "the use of social software and its ability to promote collaboration between patients, their caregivers, medical professionals, and other stakeholders in health." At Wednesday's E-Health Consumer Luncheon, convened by HCFA's E-Health Consumer Advocate Lisa Fenichel, this definition came to life in the presentation, "Patient Empowerment: Methods, Models, and Motivations," by Sherri Dorfman, CEO, Stepping Stone Partners.

Through the lens of Wendy, a fictional healthcare consumer who wanted and needed to lose weight, four different Health 2.0 "products:" WeightWatchers.com, Wellcoaches.com, an employer incentive program, and BodyMedia (which uses an armband with sensors to collect the patient's biometric information and a special watch to display it), were described and compared in terms of their social, financial, informational , and time costs and benefits.

And the winner is . . . When the participants voted at the end of the presentation for the Health 2.0 product they thought would work best for Wendy, Wellcoaches.com won handily, followed by WeightWatchers.com. Not surprisingly, those two were, in that order, the programs that depended most on human relationships to work. Clearly, technology in healthcare is most useful when it enhances the ability of people to mentor, support, educate, and empower one another. It is a powerful tool, but only a tool -- not an end in itself.

Second: The World Congress Leadership Summit, "Consumer Connectivity and Web Empowerment: Transforming the Traditional Flow of Healthcare Information for Tomorrow's Consumer," was a daylong meeting packed with sessions focusing on the intersection of consumers and healthcare, via the web, with particular attention paid to PHRs (personal health records), patient support groups, online coaching, and hybrid models of online and in person patient-provider interactions. (Click here for presentations, using Access Code: BostonMay6.)

Many of the sessions I attended focused on the employer-provided "tethered" PHR. This secure, web-based "window" to one's electronic health record is most robust when the employer is also a large healthcare organization whose providers are all using such an electronic record, so that information is readily available for the patient via this patient portal. The disadvantage of this model is its lack of portability -- the information does not flow outside the organization. On the other hand, the "nontethered" PHR (one that a consumer owns and populates with his/her health information) has complete portability, but the burden of filling in one's health information might prove too much for most people.

Obviously missing from most of the day's discussions that I attended (besides consumers and advocates, that is!) until I -- and then Lygeia Ricciardi, Clear Voice Consulting, and formerly of the Markle Foundation -- brought it up, is the deep concern that most Americans have about their employers accessing their health information (although most employers promise that they will not). As many PHRs would not be covered by current privacy laws (if the vendors are not healthcare providers, they are not "covered entities," according to HIPAA), and even those privacy laws are not well understood or enforced currently, some new policy and legal frameworks will have to be developed to ensure that patients are helped -- not harmed -- by more robust engagement that these new "products" promise.

There is much work to be done before patients and providers alike can reap the full benefits of interoperable electronic health records, but the buzz is definitely out there, and that will help engage consumers to move the process along.
Lisa Fenichel