The New York Times published an article yesterday about how people who donated money to senators and election-related groups such as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee earned billions of dollars in additional profits from selling software that typically has few benefits for patients or society (see this January posting).
In that January posting I talked about how a system such as Google Docs would deliver, for free, most of the benefits of the systems for which our society is now spending tens of billions of dollars. One of my spies within Google sent me the following email in response:
In the days immediately after the Haiti earthquake there was a severe problem around collecting basic patient information and records… folks were getting moved between medical camps, doctors were moving around, all sorts of workers from different non-profits were helping out in different areas with no information sharing standards. Frequently patients would go to different doctors and due to the lack of infrastructure – buildings, power, etc., there were basically no medical records or patient histories being collected ever, which caused problems if one doctor prescribed medicine and then the patient went to another doctor, lots of wasted effort collecting the same information every time a patient came in, etc.
Anyway the google.org engineers came up with a total hack that they wanted to try out – create a Google Apps for Business domain, stick every doctor and nurse into it with an account, and then setup an enormous domain-wide shared Google Docs folder where anyone could put patient histories. Each patient history would be a single doc with the patient’s name and everything was appended as text. They thought the cell network could be kept up and running on generators so they made a really simple iPhone app (at the time very few doctors were using Android) that used the Docs APIs to make it a little bit easier to find patient records and append text to them.
They got the whole thing working in a couple of days; I don’t know how widely it was deployed, I was only involved briefly at the beginning when they needed to figure out how to set up the domain and provision users and came to the Enterprise team with questions. It was interesting how the requirements affected their design – because of the totally absurd time-crunch – people were dying and they needed to make efficient use of the doctors – basically all the requirements around privacy of information, structured records, limiting who can see whose data and keeping audit trails, etc – went out the window. And once they were gone it was actually a really easy system to build and deploy.
It is a little bit interesting that the New York Times never loses its enthusiasm for Big Government. They publish articles lauding proposals by politicians to spend billions in taxpayer money on something that is supposed to do a lot of good. Then a year later the newspaper will publish an article about how great it is that the do-gooding is actually happening. Then a year or two later the newspaper will do a follow-up about how much or most of the money turned out to be wasted, funneled into the pockets of cronies, etc. These cycles continue, usually about 50 of them in parallel, without the Times ever running an article on how government spending tends to be wasteful and to result in the enrichment of cronies.