IBM reinvents patient portal
Global research effort combines social applications with advanced online healthcare
"From the moment of birth, we take our place in the medical system. Sick or healthy—like it or not—we are part of it. Doesn't it make sense that we have some control over our role?"
These were some of the thoughts of IBM researchers, as they began work on the IBM Patient Empowerment System, a revolutionary patient portal. The system combines the basic features of other health portals, such as record storage and a procedure calendar, with new advanced technology that includes an elaborate adverse drug event (ADE) warning system and unique social applications.
Researchers from three corners of Asia—the IBM Ubiquitous Computing Laboratory in Korea, IBM Research – Haifa, and IBM Research – China came together for the collaboration. The portal was developed in cooperation with the Gacheon University Gil hospital in Korea, in an effort to increase efficiency and reduce costs at the million-patient facility. Other healthcare centers can easily adapt the system.
Differing medical systems in the three countries added unique challenges to the project, yet the developers discovered that concerns about healthcare are largely universal. Yossi Mesika, who leads the project at IBM Research – Haifa, explained, "People want to be involved. Just like they might go online to ensure that their banks don't make any errors in their accounts—they would like be better equipped to check that their care givers aren't missing anything or to prepare for an upcoming appointment. And they would like to do it in a secure way. Health systems simply work better when patients and doctors collaborate."
Taking charge of your health
Most of us already use the Internet as a tool for researching symptoms, but the enormous number of sources renders this time-consuming and sometimes more overwhelming than helpful. Moreover, gauging the credibility and accuracy of these sources can be difficult. Often we also must invest time in largely bureaucratic tasks—such as copying records for insurance approvals or second opinion consultations. More important tasks, like ensuring that our medications do not conflict, have been left to professionals. The IBM system addresses all of these issues and more.
"People use social media applications to connect with friends and family, but they don't generally use them to ask for medical advice or compare symptoms," adds Mesika. "Yet they probably would do this with a stranger in an appropriate setting—their doctor's waiting room or a medical-based chat room."
"The IBM portal infuses aspects of social media into a medical setting, providing a place for people to consult with one another. In addition to sharing information with connections they meet online, members can consult with their own doctors or with family or friends," remarks Young Ju Tak, project leader at the IBM Ubiquitous Computing Laboratory in Korea.
Helping doctors help patients
The portal invites people to create profiles and enter or import their records, including lab results, medications, allergies, genomic tests, and more. The system can aggregate information from various sources, such as monitoring devices, hospital systems, and other portals. In addition, members can enter multiple profiles—for their children or elderly parents, for example.
Physicians can use the system to connect with and monitor their patients and to interact with other providers and with the portal's greater community.
Access to their patients' daily monitoring enables them to see patterns that they might not otherwise discover. "Since the profiles can hold patients' entire histories, doctors get holistic views—which may include significant information that the patients themselves do not know to mention," adds Tak.
The ADE alert system serves as a safety net for patients who mix prescription with over-the-counter drugs, or who use more than one physician or pharmacist—situations known to increase the risk of errors. The portal also alerts against dosages that may not be appropriate for a patient's weight or condition.
Additionally, the IBM system helps protect members by incorporating data regarding pharmacogenetic interactions and warning those at risk. Some people have genetic variations that cause them to metabolize certain drugs differently than the general population. "Such variations go largely undiscovered until after a patient experiences a dangerous overdose-like reaction. Given that care providers are often unaware of their patients' genetic data, the portal fills a critical gap," explains Feng Cao, who leads the project at IBM Research – China.
The portal also serves as an information gateway, helping members sort through the onslaught of online data by providing the information most relevant for them.
Mesika sums up the portal's benefits: "The IBM Patient Empowerment System aims to bring the relationships among patients, their caregivers, and the online community at large to a new level of collaboration, without compromising privacy. For medical centers and insurers, this translates into lower costs, reduced medication errors, and faster treatment—all leading to satisfied customers."
For the rest of us—staying healthy is about to get easier.