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IT Drives Patient Education

Computer-generated questionnaires, medication resolution programs, and sophisticated videos are making a difference in patient care.
The ultimate goal of patient education is to use the same personalized approach now taking hold in clinical medicine. Just recently, for instance, InformationWeek Healthcare reported on a project that aims to individualize cancer therapy by taking into account a patient's genetic makeup, medical history, and previous therapies tried, as well as whether the cancer has spread and the tumor's molecular makeup.

To use this tool, which is limited to information on melanoma, patients or doctors enter information about the cancer, and the tool helps narrow down drugs and clinical trials to consider. Hyperlinks connect doctors and patients to additional information about the drugs and clinical trials, as well as definitions of terms and descriptions of specific mutations.

The melanoma tool is powered by expert knowledge from an open source database set up by CollabRX called Cancer Commons. That expert knowledge includes data from molecular disease models, including a melanoma disease model that was recently published in PLoSOne, an international, peer-reviewed, open-access research publication site.

Some of the more forward-thinking educators are likewise looking to tailor content to fit individual needs. Daniel Bessesen, MD, and his colleagues at the University of Colorado used a computer expert system to help patients with metabolic syndrome lose weight.

Initially, they used a computer program to gather each patient's dietary habits and weight history. An expert system then generated a four- to five-page individualized report on how each patient could improve his or her diet and exercise habits. The same system generated a companion report for physicians to use for a brief patient counseling session. After a year, more patients using the IT-enhanced approach lost at least 5% of their body weight, compared to those in a control group.

It's unlikely that computers will ever replace flesh and blood patient educators--at least not in the near future. The best communication still requires face-to-face conversation and all its emotional nuances. But given the time constraints on most clinicians, it's clear that IT has a lot to offer.

Paul Cerrato is editor of InformationWeek Healthcare.