• 03.03.11

A Facebook for Patients: IBM’s Medical Social Network Gets an Upgrade

An expanded portal lets patients connect better with the right information–and with one another.

IBM Patient Empowerment System

IBM has a long-standing commitment to health care and global health. This week the company revamped its “patient portal.” Dubbed the IBM Patient Empowerment System, it now acts like a social network for participating patients.


Especially intriguing here is the interactive nature of the Patient Empowerment System–if a person has an urgent question about the interaction of two drugs, the system will cross check his or her medical records and background and warn yes or no to taking a particular medicine. It also allows patients to log in, update their profiles with prescription information, symptom complaints, blood pressure readings, and to find other patients struggling with similar illnesses or diseases. A patient can send a message to other patients and ask questions about certain medications or offer advice from personal experience.

“Most patients do not have the same access to information available to physicians, such as treatment updates or new warnings from the FDA,” said Joseph Jasinski, IBM Research. “And physicians are not always privy to ongoing patient updates, such as eating habits or long-term monitoring of vital signs. These partial pictures limit the level of care that physicians can provide, as well as the care patients can provide for themselves. The IBM Patient Empowerment System merges these realms, bringing important data to both parties.”

IBM Patient Empowerment System

Other medical-focused social networks already exist; PatientsLikeMe is an independent online social network that connects patients based on disease affliction and the focus is on sharing the experience of what it’s like to go through the particular illness–like a social support network.

The IBM system is different for its focus on institutional affiliations–hospitals sign up and integrate the portal into their office procedures.

“Today, patients want to be more involved in managing their clinical data, and are eager to discover relevant and useful medical information for their benefit,” noted Dr. DongKyun Park from Gacheon University Gil Hospital in Korea, the pilot center of the new Patient Empowerment System.

If cities can do it, why not hospitals?

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About the author

Jenara is an overseas reporter for Fast Company and a freelance writer/producer in Asia, regularly on CNNGo, and a graduate of Harvard and UC Berkeley.