Obsessions: March 29th, 2010

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As I introduced last week, this year’s SxSW was a departure from years past: there’s been a sizable social awakening within the community of developers, designers, and pros who deal with them. We’re tired of making toys, and ready to move on to the real world.I sat in on a core conversation called ER 2.0, led by Ed Bennett and Aimee Roundtree, both of whom are advocating heavy use of social technologies as a way to increase communication to and from patients, and to create awareness from within the organization to the general public. Here’s a recorded liveblog of the actual conversation. Ed works in organizing web presences for medical organizations, Aimee is at the University of Houston-Downtown and on Twitter, focusing on the language and rhetoric used within medical professions. Aimee was invaluable during this conversation, connecting about fifty people who didn’t know each other, directing pertinent questions and opening the floor as issues became apparent. For those of you unfamiliar with SxSW, the corew conversation format is just that: an open conversation of like-minded (and interested) folks. It’s not a speech or a presentation.

This conversation is still happening on Twitter via #er20. For those readers not using Twitter, this is a “hashtag,” or a search term used to group related messages into a single thread of conversation. The concept is that you, as an individual user, could be using Twitter for your own purposes but post a single message having to do with this subject. By adding the characters “#er20” to your message, you’ve added yourself to the stream of thought about this subject. Hashtags are organic and decided upon by simple discussion; there are no hard and fast rules.

At the moment, there is a huge gulf between what American doctors can do (primarily because of HIPAA and legal departments’ interpretation of it, it seems), and what third-world countries are doing.

Simple things: one participant related a story of a third world hospital which communicated with its patients using their cellphone numbers, simply because cell phones and SMS are a more realistic way to communicate than desktops or laptops—the technology simply isn’t there.

Shockingly (to me, as a complete newbie to this conversation), this sort of obvious communication simply doesn’t happen in the States. Doctors could use Twitter to communicate public health concerns, as one participant said had happened in the case of a few disaster scenarios—but they can’t. They’re neither trained nor compensated for such communication. Legal departments almost outright deny them the opportunity to communicate with patients, because the fear of lawsuit is so incredibly heightened in the States due to the frameworks which have grown up around HIPAA.

There is a huge opportunity for designers to help these folks communicate in more effective ways. For example, there are no real ways to share patient records online (which is now changing, as the President has mandated that hospitals need to get their technology in gear), web presences are presentational and marketing-based only, as any internal discussion of online communication apparently devolves into discussions of ROI (to which one conversation participant responded, “fine, then let’s talk about the ROI of the hospital chaplains and rabbis. We simply can’t quantify their value to the patients, but if we removed them, our value to the community would plummet.”).

Follow Ed’s blog (where he’s both writing about and curating hospitals and healthcare organizations using social media channels), his Twitter account, and the conversations on Twitter about ER 2.0 to read for yourself. I feel unqualified to truly remark upon the possibilities myself, as I have only just begun to look at what healthcare needs to communicate better—but my eyes were certainly opened to a lot of new possibilities during that core conversation.

Addendum, 3/29/10, 11:35AM: here’s an interesting and simple way online and social media tools can be used to streamline medical procedures. No More Clipboard allows you to securely store and deliver medical records online, and have centralized versions that can be kept up to date. Thanks to Jesse Ewing for the link.