Friday, 14 September 2012

An Open-Source Cure?

Kudos to my lovely boyfriend for this very interesting link to a website created by an Italian man with brain cancer, who requested copies of his medical files from his hospital  in order to send to other hospitals and doctors for their opinions, only to find that they were in proprietary formats which he could not open on his computer. Being computer savvy, he managed to convert them into open formats so that he can share his information with everyone, online. And he's posted them on his website.

It might sound weird, this idea of posting medical records online, when these are documents that we're used to treating with the utmost confidentiality, but already he has had responses from doctors - and the idea is that everyone is encouraged to use the data to create a cure, whether that's a doctor suggesting treatment, an artist creating artworks, videos, poems... you name it. Other people with similar conditions can send in their own data, if they wish, to be added to the site.

The author of the website had some very interesting thoughts about how the way in which his data is treated parallels the way in which his disease has been treated:

"The data formats which I was "forced" to hack is in a peculiar state of harmony with the common definition of "disease/illness".

The definition of "diseases" is "reserved" to doctors. Often using words which we don't understand and, most important of all, touching only a part of the human condition, which is made from body, but also of spirit and sociality.

The DICOM format is open, yes, but in a very "peculiar" condition of openness: it is like the openness of the words which they use to tell you about your health condition, and with which they descrive and actuate their version of the "cure": you can't understand it, you can't reuse it, you can't combine it with other possibilities. It is thought for "experts" and "professionals" (of one single type), leaving little space for other possibilites for expression and socialization."

It's interesting to consider the possibility that the sacred doctrine of doctor-patient confidentiality may, in some cases, end up mitigating against patients having the ability to take charge of their own healthcare, or seek the widest possible range of medical opinions on their condition. Now that so many hospital systems and even procedures are digitised, there's clearly a balance to be struck between protecting patients' private information, and making it so inacessible that patients are unable to view their own data.

Historically, medical education and knowledge has been very much the preserve of the privileged few, and patients weren't necessarily expected to understand their own conditions. With the rise of the internet, it's so much easier for patients to be informed about their own illness - some might say too easy - and thus it seems terribly ironic that the same medium enabling greater patient choice and freedom should simultaneously be creating new and unwelcome restrictions on their ability to use their own data in whatever way they desire.

Posting your medical records on the internet for all to see may not be everyone's cup of tea. But it should still be an option if that's what you want to do.

Check it out:

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