Have you ever overheard doctors speaking about a patient? They could be breaking the law.
How about viewing a selfie a friend posts from the doctor’s office? That could also be breaking the law.
Or maybe you’ve caught a glance at the receptionist’s papers while at the doctors? That may be a violation too.
But, did you know that this same law also gives you the right to access your own medical records?
Each of these scenarios is potential violations of the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Doctors, nurses, and receptionists have been trying to comply with HIPAA for over 20 years now, yet many patients don't understand it.
Two months ago, our team of Harvard students working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services knew very little about how HIPAA works in practice. So, we interviewed Boston residents, doctors, and other health care professionals about their experiences with HIPAA, especially as it relates to accessing medical records. After knocking on doors, visiting hospitals and reviewing survey responses we learned a lot.
Narrowing Down Our Ideas
To help patients with HIPAA, we brainstormed a wide range of ideas: a health quiz game, a silhouette marketing campaign, and even a comedy monologue!
However, we soon realized that given a limited period of time, we couldn’t pursue every idea to fruition. From our research until now, we knew that people care about their health records when they fall ill and need records to access care. In other time periods, they are not very concerned about their records. In most instances, people who fall seriously ill for the first time in their lives have the toughest time navigating the long, winding maze of accessing health records. While selecting ideas to be explored further, we focused on ideas which would ease the process for these first-time users.
As described in the figure above, this meant we focused on the set of people who experienced declining health for the first time in their lives and immediately needed doctor’s care. Additionally, we developed a set of criteria to evaluate our ideas such as potential reach, impact, and resources required and scored each idea. On the basis of these two primary filters, we arrived at a list of consolidated ideas to be pursued further.
Prototyping and Testing
After narrowing down our ideas, we decided to build some rough prototypes. For example, we built a simple question-and-answer system for patients. Many people from our interviews didn’t know about HIPAA or their basic rights to records, but those who did know their rights often had a lot of interaction with the healthcare system. But how do people transition from knowing very little to having substantive knowledge about their rights? We wanted to create a solution that targeted people when they first needed to seriously interact with the healthcare system but still weren’t very informed. This Q&A platform is supposed to be a quick and easy way to get these people up to speed. Check out Bobby explaining versions of the prototype in this video.
Over the coming weeks, we will continue prototyping and testing different ideas. Our goal is to build out and test as many of these ideas as we can in this short timeframe. It’s challenging to not play favorites and to stay unbiased as we go. But that’s why it’s important to build and test as many ideas as possible. That way, we can have real data to see whether we are solving the problem.
Rridhee, David, Jen, Manasi, and Bobby