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Doctoring Joomla!

Doctoring Joomla!

In an exam room with my doctor, I tell him, “It hurts when I snap my fingers this way.” My doctor replies, “stop snapping your fingers that way.” Ah, yes the obvious. Jokes aside, intelligent people, like doctors, break down hard problems into simple steps that don't seem obvious at first. I then proceed to ask him, “I think I need a second opinion, can your system just send over my records?” My doctor looks puzzled. I think to myself, “All those years of medical school and he doesn't know how to send over my records?” Where has the intelligence gone?

About a decade ago, I was given an assignment to work on a healthcare project. Back then, web based tools were emerging. And combining healthcare data with web technologies were at an infancy. As the years past, I become involved in companies that were ahead of their time taking advantage of the web to distribute healthcare data to those that needed it. But again, we were ahead of our time. Web based adoption in the healthcare industry felt like .001%.

In the US, with its private healthcare systems, physicians started to realize that they needed to market their practices on the web to attract patients in a competitive landscape. Using Joomla!’s predecessor, Mambo, I realized the best way to do this was to manage physician websites via its CMS.

For decades the healthcare data industry had worked in closed and proprietary caves. Although the industry did adopt some loose data standards, there were no regulations in sharing data. If a doctor wanted to send over my records, for that nagging finger, it was done through fax. If I wanted a copy of my records, it was photocopied. A paper wasteland of delays that in some cases caused death. Today, the needs of a physician’s practice are growing into more than just marketing. There’s a real need to transport and display medical data via the web. The biggest driver is the new Federal Stimulus HITECH act, commonly referred to as ‘Meaningful Use’. It’s a massive overhaul of healthcare information technology. Of particular interest are patient rights legislation for access to their medical data, also known as a personal health record (PHR).

As a Joomla! healthcare evangelist, I take data for granted. Yes, it’s not as simple as the snap of a finger. But it’s just easy to think of a world with Joomla! as the starting point for projects. l get that it’s powerful, free and open software. But Joomla! and its database take on a bigger meaning by easily molding that data for usable presentation. We’re moving away from a cosmetic ‘look and feel’ website model to one that functions as a set of applications working together under a common framework. With the era of Meaningful Use, the government mandates patient data be made accessible. The efficiency of the web makes it a viable delivery model in healthcare. The Joomla! framework is a good fit in healthcare because of its efficiency at presenting multiple applications under a unified management system. Joomla! will not replace existing medical software, but rather enable physicians to communicate with their patients, thus achieving a portion of the Meaningful Use requirements.

Joomla! developers and site builders should welcome these changes in healthcare. It’s easy for citizens to feel far removed from the workings of Washington D.C. but as with any government legislation, there are opportunities. A physician practice, especially smaller solo or a two to three physician group are not equipped to deal with the onslaught of requirements. That’s where Joomla! comes in. Unlike Drupal, which requires a higher level of expertise, or Wordpress, still deemed as a blogging system that lacks a framework, Joomla! has the advantage of easy ongoing maintenance for physician websites with a breadth of components to fill several needs at once. If you are considering a Joomla! deployment to physicians, here are just a few things to consider:

What to Expect

  1. Sell the SSL - Physicians come from a client-server world. For all the rhetoric of Microsoft security woes, having a database that runs locally, aside from an internal breech, is seen as far more secure for patient data. They’re use to owning their own data rather than subscribing to it. The concept of a hosted website for physicians is not new, however if Joomla! is used to manage any patient data, SSL is mandatory. As a rule of thumb, budget for SSL certs every time.
  2. Consenting Adults - Physicians rely on good old email SMTP for communication. Although the current legislation is working to adopt it as a portion of the patient communication model, it’s not covered under the 2003 HIPAA privacy act. Educate the use of Joomla! registered messaging in lieu of email exchanges between doctors and patients. The user registration process should include privacy disclaimers.
  3. Get My Message? - Physicians are used to managing problems by hiring more staff. A Joomla! based appointment system can take the place of having staff call each patient to remind them of their next appointment and transcribe voicemails to physicians.
  4. Mixed Up - Physicians are barely starting to see the power of enabling patient relationships from social media. For the most part it will take years. If you’re going to mix social media networks like Facebook with Joomla!, be aware that privacy laws are enforceable and that there are limitations as to what can and can not be communicated openly online.
  5. Lost in a Forest - The use of paper in a physician practice is unsurmountable. The good news is that it’s slowly coming to an end. Joomla! can accelerate that process by enabling paper forms to go online. It’s best to manage form results via database than to only send emails for each submission which could be lost in the shuffle.

In general, healthcare poses some unique challenges mostly due to a lack of real standards and a slower than usual crawl to move to the web. Joomla! can easily fit into any healthcare environment like a swiss army knife.

Looking back, my doctor was never un-intelligent. He just didn’t have the right tools to find the simple steps to work through healthcare’s hard IT problems. Let’s make Joomla! the intelligent choice for a doctor’s office.

Joomla! in the Press/Media - July 2010
Website Case Study: Joomla! Community Magazine


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