Medical Social Networking web application connects the medical fraternity with their patients. It allows the doctors to serve the people in need without geographical limitations. The application presents a medium for the community to inspire & motivate the people to improve their health literacy and share their experience. This application will also allow patients to maintain their own medical records online and share with any doctors registered with the site.
In this modern age of social media and instant communication, an opportunity was available to facilitate a connection between patients & doctors through a web based social networking application. The application would aim to bridge the communication gap between the medical professionals and the patients during consultation & treatment while increasing involvement of all the participants within the medical & health fraternity.
Currently the communication exists only through emails, telephone calls and face to face visits. A social media based interaction shall enhance the communication experience and allow the medical fraternity to approach patients in a friendlier manner thereby establishing a healthy rapport. Patients, doctors and medical representatives are already well versed with social media & use it on a daily basis with no training required. Providing a communication solution along the same lines will help in maximizing conversions & facilitate effective information sharing. Moreover currently only the medical facilities maintained patient record history. This application will also allow patients to maintain their own medical records online and share with any doctors registered within the site.
This market had not been explored yet and the online health social networking application presents an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the power of technology, social media and the medical community to bring together an experience that benefits the society as a whole.
The proposed online health social networking application which would act as an information exchange platform for doctors, patients and medical professionals is expected to meet the following requirements:
Use a clean and easy to use GUI for the website allowing visitors & registered users from various background to effectively make use of the application
Implement a social networking environment to allow the users to network & communicate with each other on the subject of the available content
Adhere to government regulations and guidelines to protect the confidentiality of the patient records
Due diligence in processing & verifying doctors registered in the application
Multi lingual with support for Spanish for the Hispanic demographic population which is the second most popular language in the continental US
The following points summarize the challenges posed by the online health social networking application during the design & implementation phase which aims to provide a centralized seamless communication platform for the patients, doctors and the medical professionals involved during the consultation or treatment phases:
Storage & exchange of health records within the US requires stringent compliances and regulations to be followed within the IT systems. The medical fraternity is a closed group of individuals who practice their own specialization. Regular interaction within them is a low occurrence on a per patient basis. Moreover patients prefer approaching medical professionals whom they know personally or have met in person. Given the chance to divulge health conditions and interact with doctors on a social media platform requires serious effort to ensure closure of privacy and usability concerns. Verification of doctor records is of paramount importance both from compliance & security standpoint.
Initiating communication & maintaining the guidelines based on which the information is to be exchanged has to be effective yet simple so it can be implemented easily & monitored closely. Apart from federal regulations, state guidelines are also applicable on the IT systems that deal with health & patient information.
Getting the UI right for the target user base was critical. Age demographic was estimated to be between 16 & 60. Apart from the age, the target demographic was comfortable with English & Spanish. This required the application to be multi lingual from launch. The UI has to be appealing enough to attract users to use it and easy enough to navigate. Flashy UI will not aid in converting visitors into registered members and retaining them. Callouts has to be bright and bold of appropriate sizes to make them noticeable.
Allerin delivered an online health social networking application for the doctors & patients to interact and exchange medical and health data for, consultation, advice and treatment. The social media interaction helps the target audience to come closer and effectively communicate with each other. The patients are able to maintain their health records online and share them with doctors for advice for further diagnosis or treatment. The application has the following salient features:
User Management: Patients are able to register for an account and start uploading or submitting their medical case history data to create their profile. The profile details & medical history is available to be shared with specific doctors or everyone as necessitated. Doctors and medical practitioners are either invited by the admin or can register themselves or through referrals. Self-registered & referred accounts require admin approval after a mandatory background check is performed based on the collected information.
Journal: A journal provides a centralized interface to the patients to view new messages, activities being performed on their records, discussions and the updates associated with them. The journal acts a log book which is auto-populated with the notifications which allows the patient to have a summarized view of all actions being performed on their profile.
Friends: Patients can become friends with each other within the application to share information & participate in discussions. Journals are also available to be viewed but in restricted mode so as to not divulge sensitive health records.
Groups: Patients can create groups and add members to it who are friends. Groups are private congregation with selected members and require approval from the group owner to become a member. Admin has full privileges to disband a group by specifying a reason which is shared with the group owner.
Messages: Patients & permitted doctors are able to exchange private messages with each other. Patients who are friends are also able to send each message either on a one-one basis or within a group.
Events: Patients are able to create and manage events. They can add friends to the events created who can approve/decline the invitation. The events can be awareness or motivational campaigns or any other events the patient community would like to create for each other. The admin has full access over the events and can cancel or update them at any time.
Discussion Boards: Each group has their own discussion boards where the participating members can either create a new discussion topic or post content to existing topics which interests them or have knowledge to share. Discussion boards are heavily moderated by the admin to ensure only high quality content is an available & there are no cases of abuse or harassment.
Bookmarks: Patients & Doctors can post links or content to the bookmarks which serve as a centralized repository of interesting content that they have come across or would like to keep for future reference. These bookmarks are also allowed to be kept private or accessible through the profile view for other users. Each bookmark shall have a title name to be referred with.
Search: Patients can search for each other and for registered doctors as well. Doctors can be filtered based on their experience & specialization. Search is allowed to be performed by name and location. Bookmarks are also allowed to be searched by name.
The online health social networking application has been designed & implemented by Allerin using the following technologies:
- Language - Ruby
- Framework - Rails
- Database - MySQL
- Interface - HTML4 & CSS3
- iWeb Server - Apache 2.4.7
- RubyGems/Plugins - simple_captcha, rails, mysql, rails3-jquery-autocomplete, acts_as_commentable, acts-as-messageable, paperclip, exception_notification, activeadmin, permanent_records, delayed_job, inherited_resources, permalink_fu, yajl-ruby, will_paginate, authlogic, acts_as_favable, acts_as_likable, acts_as_rateable, acts-as-readable, acts-as-taggable-on, respond_to_parent
The online health social networking application, which facilitates & encourages communication between patients and doctors to be performed online through a highly secured portal, encountered both planned & unplanned risks which were mitigated by implementing best practices of risk management:
Medical practitioners and doctors have to adhere to different compliance protocols for patient record privacy as per geographical location. Federal regulations along with state regulations must be followed by the application to be legal IT product which complies with the rules in place. In order to streamline the compliance & standardized protocol was developed in conjunction with the experts in the field which embodies all the stringent compliance's while allowing enough flexibility and feasibility to be embodied within the operational version of the application.
Identifying and classifying the numerous medical conditions proved to be a task in itself. Pre-defined data had to be classified correctly so that users are able to relate with it as in real world application while creating their profile or when seeking consultation. As such, it was decided to collaborate with stakeholders who were involved in the health industry to procure the details. Moreover, certain medical conditions were deemed to be too critical to be included for assessment within the online application.
Scalability with regards to hardware and software architecture had to be carefully planned and executed. Being a social media platform, assuming the rate of increase in the number of users was not concrete and as such had to be implemented with load balancing mechanism in place at the server level to assure system uptime at all times.
Moderation of content posted by users is another concern. With the application being a social networking website, navigating through all content is nearly impossible for any site admin. Therefore decision was taken to allow the registered community to flag inappropriate content. Admin would have the option to moderate both flagged & un-flagged content as per discretion with full autonomy.
User Interface had to be characteristically simple and efficient due to the wide target audience. Bold colors, upsized fonts and extensive spacing had to be used to create a comfortable environment. Buttons and action callouts were made to stand out from the interface. Image usage has been strictly minimized.
The online health social networking application with its simple UI and straight forward feature sets helped in bringing together the entire medical fraternity comprising of doctors, patients, physicians, supporters and survivors to come together on a single platform and participate in exchange of information which is backed by real life experiences. It provides an opportunity for the doctors to serve people away from their geographical locations and reach out to the ones in need. Chronic and rare conditioned patients receive encouragement, support and practical advice to help them get through the tough times. The application presents a medium for the community to inspire & motivate the people to improve their health literacy and share their experience for others. It also allows the patients to have an initial consultation based on the symptoms so as to gauge how serious the condition is or if a doctor visit is necessary. The online doctor community participates actively with the patients to gauge the seriousness of the medical condition & also recommend treatment options.
Technically, the application is CMS ready and can be integrated easily with both out of the box or a custom made solution. The web platform being flexible allows ease of customization thereby providing exceptional value for future upgrades and enhancements. Integrations with existing social media applications are provided to allow the patients to share discussions, treatment solutions or consultation advice. Value added features such as calendars, forums, wiki & feeds are planned for future iterations to continue to deliver exceptional user experience while maintaining the core objective of facilitating communication between the patients and doctors.