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When Data Isn't Enough

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, October 4, 2011

OK, so information is power. But does information alone have the power to transform healthcare? To help people make healthy lifestyle choices and get patients fully engaged in their care? Can healthcare information technology transform healthcare -- as so many say we must -- from a system that treats disease to one that prevents it?

There are plenty of folks who are trying to use data and technology to do just that--from physicians to the government to patients-turned-advocates. Many of their ideas to use healthcare data to empower patients were on display at last week's Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco. They ranged from hot apps to cool gadgets to interactive websites as adorable and non-threatening as a game of Farmville or Angry Birds.

I admit that I was fascinated by all of the wares on display. But my inner skeptic wants to know: Where are the technologies, tools, and solutions that will engage patients who just don't care about their health that much in the first place? Or those who don't have the time, resources, or energy to take on the task of getting and staying healthy?

Getting healthcare data and information into the hands of engaged patients is a lot less of a challenge than reaching those who are not.

Developers are banking on techniques like "gamification" (a horrible word to describe health-related web sites that have game-like interfaces and qualities) as a way to get folks to learn about their health and use their healthcare data to improve it. 

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