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How Google and Ascension Can Get Project Nightingale Back On Track

By Rick Wilminko, consultant, netlogx.

Rick Wilminko

The news that Ascension and Google are working together on a system using machine learning, called Project Nightingale, at first seems like a step forward toward better patient care. Because it’s challenging for any healthcare provider to exchange information about patients and patient care, it only makes sense that the healthcare industry would look for technology solutions that could solve some of these obstacles.

The design of a new software system that could suggest changes in care and make medical records easily accessible to any doctor treating a single patient would help alleviate many of the challenges our healthcare system faces today.

However, it’s important that these two entities move through the process with great care and consideration. Google is no stranger to controversy regarding data privacy, machine learning and ethics. In April, the tech leader vanquished its AI ethics board after a public outcry over board members and the potential misuse of Google’s AI systems. Further, Google has been accused of inappropriately using data to personalize online marketing and advertising. While it is true that Project Nightingale doesn’t break any laws under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), what is most concerning is the potential misuse, release or breach of the data without patient permission.

As a senior consultant for an IT security and risk management firm, I have spent years guiding government health agencies toward common-sense approaches to data management using technology. In order to ensure the greatest transparency for Project Nightingale, it is crucial to give patients an option to opt-in or -out of the program namely because of the risk for data to be breached or misused.

First, Google and Ascension should be tasked with clearly outlining how this project will progress in the future, or who the intended users are. Is it only for healthcare providers? If Google has access to patient data, will it be marketed in the future? While Google may say it will not share or sell user data, we don’t know how Ascension plans to use this data set in the future.

Using the information as part of a medical study that could help improve patient care is much different than using patient data to better market or advertise healthcare solutions or pharmaceutical products. Without this information being publicly available, how are patients and the public supposed to know safeguards were set up at all? This is one reason that so many in the technology industry, including myself, are hesitant to support this project.

Second, any technology is at risk for a data breach, no matter what kind of security is in place. Any device can be hacked, whether by a nefarious organization or a person living in their mother’s basement. Therefore, it is vital to stay a step ahead while anticipating vulnerabilities and risks.

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Engaging in Social Media Engages Patients: Reasons Not to Be Anti-social

There’s no doubt social media is currently dominating every corner of the business world, and in healthcare, given the new focus on patient engagement, this form of communication is clearly having an impact.

Those of us who continue to be intrigued by the art form (I like to think of it as an art form because there are no hard rules for participating in the online social scene) we try to engage an audience, carry on conversations with others and do our best to disseminate useful information that will keep the world engaged. What you say and Twitter is no different than what you say in person, except that it has the potential to be heard around the world. But, plainly put, how you portray yourself online or in person is how you will be viewed and judged.

If you say something stupid, there’s a great chance that you’ll be seen as stupid.

For healthcare professionals (for anyone, really), social media is a great way to gain exposure and to attract new patients to your practice. Plus, social media can be a great way to engage your current patients. Social media channels allow you to communicate, and it allows patients a way to contact their physicians and caregivers.

According to EMR Experts, this means that “health and well-being becomes something that patients can think about daily rather than once a year at their annual checkup.”

This is a classic case of in sight, in mind. If patients are seeing your information, there’s a great chance they’re thinking of you of their care.

Social media, as you most likely, is not a tool to simply be ignored. It’s a communication force to be reckoned with because, in most part because patients are already online seeking information about their health and their care. By implementing a program, you’ll likely engage them, so who better than to connect with than their own docs.

Again according to EMR Experts, “By using social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+, physicians are able to keep in touch with the majority of their patients and to provide them with accurate medical resources that they might not be able to find elsewhere online.”

Here’s the good news: it’s easy to go social, and it’s free. The investment you make is time. To establish yourself as a respected source, you have to contribute regularly to your sites. From that point, like you might with your patient portal (link), you can begin to market your site on your practice’s collateral.

Perhaps the biggest question physicians have about social media is what they should post and what type of conversations should they engage in?

Here are a few ideas:

To recap, why is social media so important? Because it’s social and you don’t want to be anti-social. Put simply, being social not only serves you and your practice, it allows your patients a direct channel to communicate with you and lets them engage you.

For example, according to a recent HIMSS piece, Social Media for Engaging Consumers, patient consumers can:

Engaging in social media allows you an opportunity to engage in more in-depth conversations with the people you are charged with caring for. If for no other reason, direct communication with you patients as a potential opportunity to better engage them is worth any effort you are thinking of investing in a social media program.

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