Today's health and wellness programs are rightfully trying to empower individuals to own their health and well-being. Social networking -- which leverages the wisdom of crowds -- is essential to achieving that goal of behavior change. In fact, we know that when consumers share and socialize about improving their health, they are six times more likely to achieve their health goals. We shouldn't be surprised. Social media sharing has driven positive change and disrupted inefficient industries for the last decade, including: Education's Khan Academy; Change.org and the democratic process; Airbnb disrupting the hospitality industry. Within the healthcare realm, this is not the case. The well-intentioned effort -- most recently refreshed by way of the HITECH Act -- has now rendered us with inefficient and outdated hurdles that stand in our way. I'm looking at you, HIPAA.
The irony of HIPAA, while designed to help consumers, is that it is the antithesis how people share and collaborate to improve their health. It has now become a major roadblock of many individuals' ability to take ownership of their health and well-being -- which is especially damning in today's day and age of sharing. It's time for a HIPAA overhaul -- or better yet, annulment. Compelling applications and social networks are the main forces driving this need for correction.
Social's History of Revolution: Healthcare is Next
The popularity of social networking caused a major restructuring of many community-oriented industries: LinkedIn for career searching; Kaboodle for shopping; and Pandora for music. Social networking now has healthcare in its sights.
HIPAA was designed to make health private and secretive, but most everything about health today is, in fact, social. Fitness apps track and share activities and calories; wellness and fitness gurus have amassed cult-like followings on Twitter and Facebook; Pinterest culls healthy recipes; and social networks helps large populations train for big races, and even fight serious illnesses, like diabetes, together. Granted, sharing health information, like fitness data, is less personal, so how does the social aspect of health apply to the more serious issues that people may not want to talk so openly about? It's up to them, which is the whole point. Allowing people to share as much (or as little) as they want should be their own decision. Whether it's for a support group or informational study, sharing shouldn't be hindered by an out of date law that doesn't accommodate for today's social atmosphere.
The End of an Era
When HIPAA was created, circa 1996, the goal was admirable: Secure personal health information (PHI) so employers and insurers cannot discover pre-existing conditions that could result in discrimination from a job, healthcare, or both. HIPAA did not make discrimination illegal, but it certainly made the process more difficult by making personal health information secret.
When was the last time you asked for a medical record and how easy was it to obtain? My guess is that your experience was similar to mine: Only after three hours and eight different interactions, was I finally able to acquire my own health information. And this was just my effort to access information, let alone share it. Sure, this is somewhat expected in a process like this -- anything with red tape takes longer to push through -- but there's no denying that HIPAA complicated the process with an overprotective system in place and lack of updates to reflect the current state of digital health. Either way, this experience points to a huge problem in an already overly complex and confusing healthcare system.
Technology in the Driver's Seat
Unlike 1996 when HIPAA was created, today's technology environment and renewed wellness goals embrace the concept of sharing information, rather than hiding it and utilizing new technologies to improve healthcare as a whole.
BYOD is certainly not a new concept, and the use of mobile devices and software in healthcare is finally becoming more common. However, HIPAA doesn't accommodate for advances in technology, regardless of if it is hardware or software. This doesn't mean that doctors aren't using the technology -- they are, and are arguably more efficient and effective for doing so -- but as a result, an incredible 85 percent of hospitals are technically non-compliant. This is a perfect example of how stuck HIPAA is and the lack of flexibility the law has for incorporation of new and important technologies that help physicians and patients alike.
Then we need to revisit the phenomenon of sharing via technology -- MyFitnessPal's 40 million users are helping more people lose weight than any other program in the world. Fitbit has helped inspire thousands of people to take 10,000 steps every day. Now there are corporate health programs that are hinging on social to help people exercise, eat more fruits and vegetables, and manage stress to create meaningful behavior change. Technology, legislation, and data sharing have created a new social fabric of health -- one that is vastly different than the era of when HIPAA was created.
The End of HIPAA
Regardless of what cause came first -- be it the rising of a sharing culture or the innovation in the technology -- there is a monumental shift taking place in wellness and healthcare approaches. Communities, legislation, technology and social networks have all played a part in getting us here. Revisiting HIPAA in the 2014 era where patients are now 1) protected, and 2) actually improving risk factors through socialized health, what was once meant to protect has become not only obsolete, but is now the unintentional roadblock to a healthier life for all. Set the data free. HIPAA must die.
*Keas is HIPAA compliant.