Editor's letter: Health care tipping points

The National Health Information Network must balance the fecundity and folly of today's commercial Internet

The Internet giveth, and the Internet taketh away — especially, it seems, in the health care community. Although it has expanded access to health information for millions of people, the Internet circulates dross and admits pranksters, or worse. This has dramatically raised the demand for precision — in health records,  patient identification, technology certification and treatment. That’s all well and good because it is forcing us to seek more sophisticated solutions to problems related to information growth, openness, and abundance.

But lately, the Internet scales seem to be tipping us into foreign territory and challenging the notion of what’s possible, what’s scientific and, in some cases, what’s safe.

For example, without some agreement on a national health care identification number, we may be simply too large a nation of health care consumers to expect total machine accuracy in health record matching. According to our article in this issue by senior editor Nancy Ferris, the best we can expect from the National Health Information Network is about 98 percent accuracy, and that doesn’t account for garbage-in. An error rate of more than 2 percent in  a country of 301.5 million people will create no end of headaches.

For health care providers, the Internet is bringing even more disruption. In this issue, contributing writer Brian Robinson looks into how the latest Internet techno-cultural shift — toward online collaborative communities supported by tools such as wikis, blogs and other social media technologies — might affect the health care community.

Here’s a sneak preview of Robinson’s findings: A recent British study concluded that in difficult cases, “it’s often better for doctors to google for a diagnosis.” 

That report must have raised a few eyebrows at the American Medical Association. The idea that a random Internet search could produce anything of real value in a clinical setting would seem crazy to most physicians. Yet it’s the kind of unconventional thinking that is starting to permeate U.S. businesses, government agencies and now even the health care community.

We report on other nonlinear uses of technology in this issue, including how serious games technologies are starting to influence medical education. We also report on health care executives who are using patient relationship management systems to stay “on message” with consumers.

We hope these stories will inspire your own unconventional ideas in pursuit of a better health care system.

Paul McCloskey
Government Health IT


  • Cybersecurity

    DHS floats 'collective defense' model for cybersecurity

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wants her department to have a more direct role in defending the private sector and critical infrastructure entities from cyberthreats.

  • Defense
    Defense Secretary James Mattis testifies at an April 12 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

    Mattis: Cloud deal not tailored for Amazon

    On Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to quell "rumors" that the Pentagon's planned single-award cloud acquisition was designed with Amazon Web Services in mind.

  • Census
    shutterstock image

    2020 Census to include citizenship question

    The Department of Commerce is breaking with recent practice and restoring a question about respondent citizenship last used in 1950, despite being urged not to by former Census directors and outside experts.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.