Product Managers Look To Patient Records For Treatment Solutions

Patient medical records may be a new product area
Patient medical records may be a new product area
Image Credit: Kevin Spencer

Nobody ever wants to go to the hospital. However, if we do find ourselves there, we would like to think that the doctors know exactly what is wrong with us and that they have a way to fix us. However, let’s face it – the human body is really, really complex and often doctors are just guessing at what ails us. Product managers believe that that they may have an opportunity to fix this problem. They are taking a look at all of the patient records that exist and are trying to determine if they can be used to improve how patients are cared for.

The Power Of Medical Records

Product managers think that they may have discovered a new source of valuable products. Just imagine this scenario: you have just been diagnosed with diabetes. Your doctor opens your electronic medical record, which of course includes your latest test results, your DNA sequence, your history of arthritis, your smoking status, your prior Covid-19 infection and your age, gender, body-mass index and race. He then updates it as necessary and clicks a button on his tablet. Moments later, a report comes back to him summarizing how thousands of patients just like you were treated in the past. In this scenario, your doctor would draw on the volume of prior cases to come up with the best treatment for you.

Let’s face it: details on the medical care of hundreds of millions of patients are piling up in electronic health records in clinics and hospitals around the world. Product managers have realized that this comprises a growing treasure trove of real-world data on the daily practice of medicine. It includes patient diagnoses, treatments and outcomes. What product managers realize is that to date hardly anyone has sought to tap the knowledge sequestered in those digital vaults that might benefit future patient care.

Aided by advances in artificial intelligence, search capabilities and other analytics, product managers are now probing the huge databases for rapid insights into the performance of the healthcare system. Product managers have an ambitious vision for this data: to help guide how doctors treat individual patients in real time. The evidence from real-world data is a different and exciting new path. Doctors can get a lot of outcome information from medical records that can help change care for individual patients. For almost any patient that a doctor sees today – whether for high cholesterol, asthma, or sepsis – hundreds or perhaps tens of thousands of similar patients have already had the care and have had outcomes, good or bad.

Harnessing Medical Records

Product managers need to realize that patient records are observational, and thus subject to misdiagnosis and other shortcomings that can undercut their reliability in pointing to treatment options. But today’s gold standard has its own issues. Randomized clinical trials, which control for differences in patient health status and other variables, are currently the preferred evidence to inform patient care. Yet such trials generally exclude an especially common group of patients -those who have multiple ailments. Additionally, the elderly, children, women, minority groups and people who live far from medical research centers have long been underrepresented in these studies.

As a result of these gaps, the highest-quality evidence that medicine produces doesn’t apply to most patients doctors see in daily practice. It is known that there are many clinical situations where the evidence that is needed does not exist. Product managers have believed for at least a half-century that data in patient medical records could help fill the gaps. However, until the last decade, most of it was stored in manila folders that lined shelves in doctors’ offices and hospital record rooms. Not having the ability to digitally organize and analyze these records, they have had little value for patient care. Thanks to a massive government investment and regulatory push during the Obama administration, well over 80% of U.S. hospitals and physician practices now maintain computerized patient records.

There are a number of issues with these records. Electronic health records are a currently hodgepodge of data because few standards exist for entering patient variables. There are more than 60 different versions of how white blood cells are counted – a fundamental biomarker for cancer patients. Without standardized reporting, you have a question of quality and accuracy that potentially could follow you forever. Controversies over privacy and ownership of patient data could also hinder product manager’s use of the information. Especially important will be the need to minimize biases inherent in observational data and to select the most meaningful variables for a patient’s condition. Doctors will need to know they can trust the information and that it can provide useful advice in the clinic or at a patient’s bedside.

What All Of This Means For You

Product managers are excited. They think that they may have discovered a gold mine of data that they can use to create a host of new products. Patient medical records contain a great deal of information on how medical conditions have been treated in the past. If product managers can get their hands on these records, they think that they can transform them into powerful tools that doctors and hospitals would be willing to purchase.

The power of medical records comes from its size. For every medical condition, there are hundreds if not thousands of other patients who have been treated with the same conditions. Allowing doctors to draw on these past cases to find out what treatments work could be very valuable. This medical data is now becoming available because product managers now have the ability to process large quantities of medical records electronically. Product managers realize that medical records only hold the observations made by doctors, but they are still valuable. The way that treatments are generally created are based on studies that only deal with small groups of healthy people – not like the people who come to doctors seeking help. Product managers have to be aware of data privacy issues and data formatting concerns.

There is no doubt that patient medical records contain a great deal of valuable information. If product managers want to be able to tap into this data store, they are going to have to first get permission. Next they are going to have to find a way to sort out all of the information so that they can understand what they have. If they can do this, then perhaps the next time that we go to the doctor, they will have seen what we have got already and have a solution to our issue waiting for us!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that people should be involved in the digitizing of medical records in order to sort out the differences?

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