Last Saturday, I volunteered for a 5K with an organization called Girls on the Run. Girls on the Run is a fantastic organization focused on improving girls’ self-esteem by introducing them to the sport of running. The program meets after school, in schools across the country, to play games constructed around confidence building and physical fitness. As the conclusion for the program, the girls run a timed 5K together.
As a volunteer, I was responsible for collecting the timing bands and placing them on a sheet with their corresponding number. The process was simple and straightforward but honestly, it was pretty gross from the sweat and terribly time consuming.
As I was placing bands in their corresponding location, I was chatting with another volunteer there. At one point I said:
“Imagine having to organize these timing bands for a race of 30,000 people instead of 800!”
At that point, he reminded me that many individuals in the large races have personal timing chips that they purchased on their own and reuse. For many competitive runners, having their timing number registered online is helpful so they can track and store the times of the multiple races they compete in. Although not all timing systems will allow personal chip numbers, most will without any problem.
And then it hit me. From a technical perspective, timing a race is not all that different than issuing and storing patient identification numbers in a hospital. Of course, patient safety and patient matching are much more important in the health care setting, there are still a few similarities.
- You have to register the individual.
- Store the information that is collected during a specified time period.
- Provide access to that information following the event.
There are a few distinctions though:
- Most runners won’t stay after to wait for the results to be posted after the event. The running community has responded to this will now post the results online, exclusively. Similarly, most patients would like to access records online, but that functionality is not yet available at most care delivery organizations.
- Most hospitals won’t allow the patient to provide their own patient identification number. Some are doing this in the form of personal health records, or PHRs, but currently that functionality is limited.
As my volunteer friend mentioned above, personal chip numbers not only provide a glimpse of the benefits of PHRs, but are a great demonstration that individuals are willing and able to take responsibility for their information.
As we move progress in the health care industry, it will become increasingly important to identify parallels in other industries where systems and infrastructures are working successfully. I believe that personal timing chips provide some indication on the future success of PHRs, because at a minimal level, I know individuals are willing to purchase and maintain their personal data collected from their athletic performance.
We have mentioned a few parallels to health care on this site before such as personal finance and travel. Are there any other analogies you can think of that could provide some direction for future health care and health IT initiatives?