Craigslist founder Craig Newmark is optimistic about the health care industry’s 21st-century makeover: mobile electronic health records, remote patient monitoring, and a new corporate culture, friendly to the open-source systems and workplace democracy in which tech innovation thrives.
Years after his low-production classified advertisements websites rocked the media world with its surprising popularity, Newmark has been a highly sought consultant for government agencies eager for their own websites to mimic Craigslist’s user-friendliness. “Voices like his make a real difference in creating the culture of transparency, accountability and trust that are essential to implementing the secretary’s groundbreaking transformation,” the Veteran’s Administration’s Chief Technology Officer, Peter Levin, told Federal Computer Week.
Inundated with a fresh generation of returning soldiers, the Pentagon and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs saw a need to undergo significant change. “There’s a lot of vets coming home,” Newmark tells Fast Company, “so the VA needs to transform itself, and they’re actually doing it.”
For starters, the VA, in recognition of the snail-like pace of governmental projects, opened up their new electronic health system to a public-private competition. The VA released medical records in a deliberately incomprehensible raw format, so that developers would be encouraged to design user-friendly systems.
Last November, Adobe won the VA’s first Blue Button competition, a name inspired by the vision of an easy, single-click-access electronic health record (Newmark was one of the judges). The winning system includes an interactive platform, complete with intuitive graphic art and simplified statistics.
Last Tuesday, the VA released an iPhone and Android-enabled mobile application for on-the-go access. Mobile is an especially exciting frontier, as brand new research from George Washington University shows that cell phone reminders improve fidelity to medication. The research is great news for a mobile health industry exploding with new apps, such as iPad x-ray diagnostics and remote patient monitoring.
Newmark is most excited for the internal cultural changes that are seeding all of these recent innovations. Managerially, the VA upgraded the industrial-era suggestion box with an internal online voting system. “You throw something in the suggestion box and the boss might not even look at it,” laments Newmark. “In this new environment, the discussions are online, people can work together to make the ideas better, and they vote the good ideas up.” And, the clincher, Newmark exclaims, “we have commitments from the very top to go” forward with the most popular suggestions.
Additionally, the VA will open source its new health care ecosystem, permitting a community of developers to co-construct the new database and allow outside institutions to modify the codebase for their own systems. The vision is a system that permits real-time communication between patients and doctors and isn’t held hostage by either a painfully slow government entity or a single, inflexible corporate partner. For developers, this means a whole new sub-industry of opportunity.
For two years, the American public has been a spectator to the congressional fights over the changing health care industry. Now, regardless of what happens on Capitol Hill, a large slice of country will be actively involved, as consumers and producers, in health care’s evolution.