Can Healthcare IT Abolish a Disease?

A week after the craziness that is HIMSS (there’s a reason the #HIMSSanity hashtag has done so well), I’m kicking around an idea that came to my mind on my flight home from HIMSS. Overwhelmed by the 5 days of in depth discussions, I closed out my HIMSS talking about healthcare IT with the lovely lady sitting next to me. It just so happened that she was a HIE coordinator at a hospital in California and was heading home from HIMSS as well.

We had a far reaching discussion on the 5 or so hour flight home from Orlando. At one point we started the discussion of personalized medicine. I think I freaked her out a little bit when I mentioned the concept of every organ having an IP address.

Our discussion prompted to me to consider this really interesting an important question:

Can we abolish a disease because we’re so good at predicting that disease that we prevent it from ever happening?

When I considered this idea, it reminded me of Bill Gates (and many others) efforts to literally eradicate Polio from off the face of the earth. They’re doing so using vaccines and I can’t remember the exact timeline, but they’re only a few years out from this goal. It’s so empowering to think about eradicating a disease. Could health IT have a similar impact?

I haven’t thought through all the diseases and all the technology that could benefit from this concept, but I’m quite certain this is the real future of healthcare IT. How wonderful would it be to work on a project that determined the cause of diabetes early enough that we no longer had diabetics? What if we no longer had coughs and colds because we could identify the warning signs early enough that we could stop them from ever happening? We just need to get past the beauracracy and regulation and on to solving these major problems. No doubt this will take an enormous effort and resources and people beyond the traditional health IT.

This is a lofty concept indeed. However, I don’t think these ideas are that far away. What do you think? Could healthcare IT be used to abolish a disease?

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference,, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.


  • We have been working over the last several years to do just that for hereditary breast ovarian cancer syndrome. We will likely never be able to abolish the disease but our goal has been to use IT to prevent disease OR find it at an earlier more treatable stage.

    We are using multiple aspects of health IT, stitched into an interoperable framework using the Hl7 pedigree standard.

    Most hereditary breast and ovarian cancer is caused by mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. In order to be successful, we must identify patients who carry these mutations before they manifest disease. This is done with self reported family history via our software on a tablet in the waiting area, on the internet thru our software or thru the internet with other software (MyFamilyHealthPortrait, the Surgeon General’s Website). Data can also be entered by the clinician into our clinician interface. Once the data is in the system, it is analyzed using risk models and algorithms via our webservice. The high risk individuals (Based on established standards) are identified and sent letters, suggesting the contact a genetic professional.

    Our genetics module then helps manage the workflow in the genetics clinic, allowing the MD, GC or NP to see more patients in less time, suggests the appropriate management, and it helps them track patients patient thru the testing process.

    For those who have a mutation, removing the breasts or ovaries can be lifesaving, as can more intensive screening.

    Once a mutation carrier is identified, our software helps to manage the family, helping the clinician assure that all members of the family who are at risk are tested.

    Our software is modular, so we plan to take advantage of new approaches as they become available (Social media, avatar based education, mobile apps, etc.

    If used systematically, we could potentially prevent about 20,000 to 30,000 breast and ovarian cancers each year in this country.
    We are not stopping at breast/ovarian cancer. As we form a commercial venture, our mission will be to identify every mutation carrier for every hereditary syndrome known to man, before disease occurs. If we can do that, we might potentially abolish genetic diseases, but we are a ways off. In the interim, use of all IT approaches in a modular fashion, made interoperable with established standards , can get us significantly closer to the goal.


Click here to post a comment