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Why Open Source and the Net Must Play a Role in Medicine

Compliance Benefits

The relationship between doctors' offices, hospitals and pharmacies would be greatly strengthened by online medical records, Halamka believes. Right now, each entity generally acts alone (aside from the all too often occurrence of a medical practice prescribing a drug based on a relationship with a pharmaceutical company), Halamka pointed out.

However, storing medical records online will allow medical professionals from different offices to access patient records without needing to contact one another, speeding up the "paperwork." In turn, patients could know that any medical professional that they visit will begin with the same information.

Patient Access

By "eliminating the clipboard," as stated by Halamka, patients could easily access all of their personal medical history. They - and their doctors - will be able to see the dates of their last vaccinations, and even their genome information. Halamka showed his own personal data from Google Health, demonstrating the XML-based display of his lifetime medical record. It's a pure XML/XSL structure, he pointed out, which is vocabulary-controlled. Direct access to medical records will allow patients to know exactly what's going on, said Halamka. Instead of having to call a doctor and be put on hold while someone searches for their information, patients will be able to log into and update their medical information from home anytime they want.

A Better Sense of Community

Making better use of the Internet also includes improving hospital websites, Halamka explained. Websites should be formatted more like social networks, so a community feel can take shape between professionals and patients.

The United States needs to set the same health standards across the country and the Internet is one way to truly bring more organization to light. Right now, 500 organizations are collaborating to create standards, and as Halamka joked, it's harder than trying to get that many people to agree on lunch. Halamka is himself active in the American Health Information Community and leads the Health InfoTech standards panel. This isn't just about personal data, such as a patient's cholesterol tests or the drugs he's taking. The standards under review include standards for telemetry, vaccine transmission, and public health data.

"Healthcare interoperability requires open standards, developed in a transparent way, by a community. It requires reusable components and tools which accelerate technical connectivity and data sharing. The Open Source movement embraces all these principles," Halamka said, "so I welcome their contributions to the work connecting payers, providers and patients."

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