Info Sharing Leads to Progress

Posted on January 20, 2012


Every once in a while I read something that really makes me think about my stance on a core belief, and then totally change my own outlook. It is not often.

I read a smart piece on healthcare in the Wall Street Journal this week on the future of personalized healthcare called “A Doctor in Your Pocket.”  In the article, after all the coverage of technology’s increasing abilities in personal health applications, and its increasing affordability as well, was this quote:

“But we can’t expect the health-care industry to continue to innovate and grow if we continue to hoard health information.”

This statement really cut to my core.  As an architect in healthcare design, I am required to design by federal patient privacy laws like HIPAA. As an individual, I believe in personal privacy a great deal, and feel most people share too much in day-to-day conversation. As a consumer, I want to feel my actions are not being manipulated by outside information, and that I get as fair a deal as the next customer.

I used to think I had control over the information surrounding my life. How naive. Given the extent of data collection by companies to sell me stuff, information’s sophistication of use and parsing for specific purposes is highly advanced. And it improves every day. Every website I visit, every financial transaction, every commercial purchase from online to the grocery store is tracked. Every company I interact with has a profile on me…why not my doctor, hospital and health insurer as well? The key concept here is every day organizations are getting better at what they do because of access to and use of information.  Why not our healthcare?

We are in an age of trading information and privacy for personal benefit. I surmise 90% of what I think is private and under my control is likely already widely known to many companies and organizations, so why not share the last 10%? I may as well share it all in order to reap the most benefit in every aspect of my life, including my healthcare. Full disclosure for full benefit makes perfect sense to me. These are choices we make when we join affinity clubs and use Facebook. Now, car insurers trade lower rates for the ability to put ‘black boxes’ or webcams in our cars to observe and track our driving patterns. This is a trade. We are creating an information trail for those organizations to use. It only makes sense such data should be used by organizations, non-profits and for-profits, to benefit healthcare as well.

The realist (or cynic) may ask: what is really private about our healthcare today anyway?  Our prescriptions are already on file and highly scrutinized, so it is easy to reverse-engineer patterns of our maladies. Our health records will soon be digital and easily categorized and analyzed no doubt. The last frontier of personal health information privacy may be our genetic coding, and whose to say that is not already largely known and tracked somewhere from our past lab work? We know genetic mapping and testing will be available and affordable soon.

The Information Age is built on sharing and leveraging information. Sure, there are nefarious uses of information, but there are dark arts surrounding lots of things in commercial life:  black markets, illegal kickbacks, advertisement manipulation. And yes, we have information overload (unhelpful information) and suffer from ‘too much information’ about a lot of things. It seems the most worrisome part is its effects on health insurance, because information sharing on the treatment side is nearly universally accepted and encouraged.

The power of information comes down to trust. In the end, we have to trust companies, governments, and individuals to do the right thing. I once thought that health information was to be protected. Now I feel we need to share it all because it will benefit everyone greatly. I believe information sharing will, for the most part, lead to improved outcomes and general benefit for me as well as the masses.

This same thought is analogous to design for healthcare. Hospitals encourage design and construction team members to share information for a better product and lower prices, yet they balk at hiring an integrated team that does this better than anyone else, such as design-build.  It is clear the market seeks the benefits of integration, yet is hung up on technicalities of how the team is formed. Much like the ‘trade’ outlined earlier, a hospital must trade its hangup on team structure to achieve the desired benefits and outcome. It must trust the team.

Formal separation of team members frustrates information sharing. Information sharing leads to progress and an overall better product, experience and outcome.  Therefore, we need a single team integrated in every manner possible through information, for progress. We might do well to become more trusting in order to improve the healthcare’s built environment and care for our communities and ourselves.