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Can EHR social networks solve interoperability, HIE woes?

- We’ve discussed the role of social media in EHRs, but what about the benefits of EHRs that are shared and commented upon through social networks?  Crowdsourcing rare diagnoses to amateur medical sleuths may still be a contentious topic with dubious medical value, but physicians are increasingly sharing patient records with their colleagues through dedicated social networks designed to provide HIPAA-compliant arenas to share knowledge, research, and suggestions.   Could these web-based workarounds be a solution to the lack of interoperability that still plagues EHR adopters everywhere, or are social networks too limited in scope to replace the basic infrastructure improvements of external HIEs and data standards?

The basic building blocks of healthcare reform already have a great deal in common with the principles of social media.  Instant access to important information on a variety of mobile devices, the ability to add data or push notifications in a close-to-real-time manner, and the emphasis on sharing updates, suggestions, and tools with patients and a growing circle of caregivers are all concepts that the public is already familiar with if they have a Facebook account.  It seems like a natural next step to develop social media networks exclusively devoted to physicians and patients, and a variety of entrepreneurs have already made the leap.

Online forums dedicated to specific conditions have long been a fixture of Google search results, offering mostly anonymous and questionably trustworthy advice from self-proclaimed patient experts, but threads nearly always end with “go see your doctor” repeated over and over.  From tibbr’s “wall” for sharing referrals, internal communications, and provider orders to Doximity’s enormous user base that allows physicians to securely share patient data, and Personiform’s Project Medyear, that connects patients and providers with hashtags, photo capabilities, and “care rings”, these increasingly popular networks are proof that physicians and consumers alike are taking social seriously.

Social networks go one step beyond static EHR systems and may even supersede patient portals in attractiveness, due to the fact that they boast slicker interfaces, more colorful graphics, and familiar features they use in their everyday lives.  They can also help providers by erasing the need for EHR-based interoperability by aggregating and displaying EHR and patient-provided data in a cloud environment untethered to proprietary vendor standards.

Social media also takes a detour around geographically-centered health information exchanges, which require legal contracts, participation fees, infrastructure upgrades, and may include a steep learning curve.  Will third-party solutions continue to expand quickly enough to make HIE protocols like Direct messaging obsolete before regional health information organizations have a chance to saturate the market?

Maybe not, since the EHR Incentive Programs don’t recognize or reward information exchange through commercial networks.  But as the business case builds for patient engagement on the patient’s terms, it will be interesting to see how social media, novel methods of HIE, and interoperability solutions combine to produce a healthcare system based around the “likes” of an increasingly fluid set of tools.

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