Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Health Information Liquidity

Contemplate for a moment your medical history. Whenever you visit your doctor, she has your file handy; but what happens to that information when you're not there? Most of us probably trust that our records stay safely locked away--my records belong to me, not my doctor. But what if my bank managed my money the same way? Vast reserves of cash would sit unused while debt markets shriveled, and I would earn no interest on my savings. Security is only the first step of responsible stewardship.

This is the starting point of the exciting idea of "health information liquidity." I caught a hint of this idea listening to Tim Andrews introduce himself to a group several weeks ago. Just yesterday I finally sat down with Tim to hear about his work in more depth.

Tim is part of Transform Partners, which has joined forces with The Work Foundation to promote discussion about health care liquidity at the highest levels. Here is a nice article about the project and its goals, including a story illustrating how sharing our health records can protect us when we travel, drive significant advances in medical research, and earn us financial dividends as a result. (The analogy to financial liquidity seems to go pretty far.)

IBM's Almaden Institute hosted an all-star panel discussion on this topic a few weeks ago. Perhaps that's what caught James Surowiecki's eye. See "Local Knowledge," the latest installment of his weekly New Yorker column, for an unflattering look at information flow in healthcare. After describing the shocking degree to which the medical care you receive depends on where you happen to be at the time, Surowiecki concludes:

"In most professions... competition insures that, over time, good ideas are diffused through the whole system: people who don’t absorb and adapt fail. But medicine, which is in some ways quintessentially modern, is in other ways a throwback, a bastion of parochialism in a globalized age."


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