My son, Grady, developed a rare and life-threatening illness--yet I consider myself one of the lucky ones. Grady's case was as unusual as it was extreme: a liver disease affecting one in 1,000; an abnormal white blood cell count; and a bone marrow disorder that affects one in one million. As a doctor, I take immense pride in the patients I have helped and the lives I have saved. Now my son's life depended on my ability as a physician to get him state-of-the-art care.
So why do I consider myself one of the "lucky ones"? As a physician--and more importantly, a father--I wanted to be certain that Grady was receiving the best treatment from the top experts in each field. As Chief of Interventional Radiology at Stanford University Medical Center, I was lucky because I was able to consult with my colleagues and gather some of the best medical opinions in the world for my child. I was lucky because I asked my network of fellow physicians to help me decide the best course of treatment. And after months of phone calls and consultations, I was very lucky because we were able to determine how to save Grady's life. Today, he is a healthy 10-year-old boy.
While Grady's case was rare, the pain and suffering my family experienced is all too common, especially in the beginning when we were first learning about the various diagnosis and treatment options. Thousands of people have similar experiences, but often with different outcomes. I was deeply grateful to have access to the world's leading experts and state-of-the-art care. But I also realized that I was lucky, as very few people have networks like mine and therefore have limited means of exploring expert opinions on diagnosis and treatment options. As I learned through Grady's experience, not every doctor is right, and I wanted everyone in the world to eventually be able to have a network or a voice, like mine to ensure the best possible care for all.
An Expert Second Opinion
After my experience with Grady, I was determined to bring expert second opinions and expert advice to the masses, and I realized that the technology is available to bring that dream to fruition. My partner Owen Tripp and I created a company called Grand Rounds, which connects patients to the top 0.1 percent of worldwide specialists in order to receive expert second opinions on diagnosis and treatment. Leveraging technologies like the cloud, electronic health records (EHR) and unique algorithms, we've created a "virtual doctor office" so professionals in specialized fields can review patient files within their expertise and provide those critical second opinions.
I stress "critical second opinions," as I believe misdiagnoses are epidemic in the United States. Sixty-five percent of cases presented to Grand Rounds experts were originally misdiagnosed or mistreated. Considering that nearly half (49 percent) of people never seek a second opinion (according to our internal survey data), the enormous opportunity to improve our individual health and wellness is clear.
Technology Opens Access to All
According to a study conducted by Harris Interactive* more than one in four (28 percent) respondents say they wouldn't know how to find a qualified medical specialist for a serious illness affecting them or a loved one. But many people don't know just how easy it is, and I believe it is time for them to become empowered. For example, start with your voice: did you know that you can simply call any one of your doctors and ask for your records to be sent to you? It is your right as a patient to have those documents and you should ask for them, always. Because they are mostly in the form of EHRs, you can easily send and share your records with any other expert you want. And if you place your records in the cloud, you can ensure they are secure from unapproved eyes, while easily accessible to the people who can help you.
Grand Rounds is an example of how these various technologies can improve people's health. Grand Rounds collates EHRs, matches cases with experts via proprietary algorithms, and connects the right data to the right people within the cloud. Making the information secure yet accessible via a browser eliminates the need for patients and their families to travel across the country (or the world) to visit specialists--saving time, money and stress.
Technology and our voices are helping to drive patient empowerment.
Access to the top physicians and the highest quality care should not be reserved only for the wealthy, those who hit the geographical jackpot, or for medical system insiders. Anyone anywhere should feel empowered to truly own their health issues and treatments--and they can. Like I said earlier, start with your voice. Patients should always come prepared to doctor appointments, and don't succumb to the "white coat syndrome"--don't be afraid to ask your doctor with questions, particularly about treatment, second opinions, and where to find them.
Second, I would suggest embracing technology. There are many good web sites that provide factual information about health (although many that don't, so research wisely); use your phone or other recording device for each doctor session for better knowledge comprehension; gather your health records so if something comes up, your history is available in real-time; and understand what other options are available for second opinions and how to find them.
Individuals who arm themselves with knowledge and embrace technology can become truly empowered to ensure the best diagnosis and treatment of any health issue. The winning combination of vocalizing concerns and leveraging technology can save time, money and even lives, making us all lucky ones.
*This survey was conducted online in July 2013 by Harris Interactive on behalf of Grand Rounds among 2,026 U.S. adults, of which 928 are employed full or part time. For more information, please click here.