Semantic Data is Critical to Patient-Centered Healthcare

Over the years, I have often considered how my doctor sees me. His questions always seem narrow and never truly focused on anything beyond the moment. He will often list facts and stats, but none that really seem relevant to me. After a recent visit, it occurred to me that our relationship was based on a demographic “picture” he had of me. This picture allowed my physician to hypothesize about my health and habits – without real facts. And, as it turns out, by relying on his demographic perceptions, my doctor ended up being completely wrong about me and my lifestyle, environment, choices and habits.

As a technologist, it often comes to mind that my doctor visits would be a lot more effective and meaningful if he were able to combine his very human, limited powers of perception with actual data regarding my living environment. For instance, what if a patient who uses a Fitbit device could give it to her doctor to check for vital sign patterns that weren’t there before? Or, how about a patient who visits his nurse practitioner with a mysterious, but chronic cough? If the patient uses TripIt, the practitioner could use the app data to learn where the patient has been. And though the patient was inoculated over 35 years ago, if he’s been visiting relatives in a location with WHO advisories for whooping cough – it warrants a closer look.

Access to semantic data empowers patients and providers

With fingertip access to semantic data, my doctor would be more astute in his hypotheses about my eating habits and lifestyle choices. What if, say, my cholesterol levels look great year-to-year, but less than promising when viewed decade by decade? In such situations, my physician would likely benefit from more in-depth background information. Do I live in an area known as a nutritional desert? Or, does my address more closely connect me with an organic, vegan lifestyle? Either way – knowledge is power. Having access to semantic data would enable my physician to see me, Noland, more clearly. By relying on incomplete notes and dubious demographic assumptions, most doctors would likely see me as a middle-aged African American man with assumed habits and proclivities – none of which are necessarily accurate.

Semantic data would allow my healthcare provider to perceive me in a different light. Armed with actual insights into my specific habits and lifestyle, he would be able to relate to and evaluate me with a more holistic and effective approach – even altering his approach to treatment. Conversely, without a complete picture of who I am, it is easy enough to misdiagnose me, or worse, take something about my health status for granted that could lead to serious problems down the road.

Can you see me now? Good!

In the new, post-Affordable Care Act healthcare landscape, doctors and practitioners are more hard-pressed than ever to ensure focus and personalized care for each patient. With many more patients and less time per appointment, having access to semantic data would enable clinicians to provide each of us with a more efficient, relevant and patient-centered healthcare experience.

To learn more about the importance of semantic data in healthcare, click here.