Crowdsourcing has become a prominent topic in the news cycle the past few weeks. Zach Braff of “Scrubs” caused a stir when the multimillionaire used the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to raise money for his new film venture. Crowdsourcing runs much more deep than just funding sites, however.

I’ve come across some research studies recently that used crowdsourcing to complete the procedures with larger populations than would be available for traditional research studies. Instead of one team of researchers at one location getting together a group of people to run an experiment, these studies define the process of evaluation, define the procedures, and let a decentralized “crowd” of people to run the experiment. In essence this is what PatientBase intends to do. Although instead of defining what the procedures of the experiment are, it creates a platform from which users can specify procedures and evaluations.

There are of course some obvious pros and cons to this approach. A pro is that you no longer need the resources of a research institution to run these experiments. If someone sees a project that interests them, they can run it in order to contribute to the overall results. An obvious con is that you will not be able to monitor the accuracy with which the procedures are executed. This con, however, might be offset by the larger sample size that would be created. These issues require more exploration.


Reporting Results

Here is an interesting article on reporting the results of social and psychological experiments.

“In response, the study authors are leading a global effort to develop reporting standards for social and psychological experiments, building on existing guidelines used in medicine and other disciplines. The goal is for scientists who are involved in experiments of complex interventions follow a common set of guidelines that identifies the essential information required to understand all experiments, including disciplines outside of medicine.”

Identifying standards of reporting procedures as well as results in experimentation is an important first step in creating meaningful evidence-based practice. This is especially true when clinicians are supposed to take these procedures and use them on actual clients. This leads to the question of how we are relaying this information currently, and how we can advance reporting. What about video of the procedures? What about a group page where people who practice an intervention technique are able to communicate with each other? This is an issue that requires innovation.



Texas Venture Labs Investment Competition

Have you ever stood in front of complete strangers and talked about what you believe in? Were they taking notes on you, your ideas, your ability to present them? Did they laugh at a joke you made? Did you like being up there? I did!

The Texas Venture Labs Investment Competition (TVLIC) is a meeting where Graduate Students at the University of Texas at Austin gather to present their ideas to seasoned entrepreneurs. You have 30 minutes to present your idea, then they give you some feedback for about 10 minutes. You make it to the semi-finals, then finals, then you get 10K cash and an incubator package to develop your idea.

I found out about TVLIC one month before it took place. During that month, I also got married to my wonderful wife, Maggie. The stress of getting married was a lot, but I wanted badly to present PB to people that could give me the feedback I needed to make the idea great, so I did what I always do: got to work. I prepared non-stop for a month. I spent hours every night sitting at my desk, hammering out my business plan and giving voice to my ideas through the age old medium of Power Point. It was a quick turnaround, but I loved it. As a self-described artist, I had to reign in my creative urges, avoid cliches, and stick to what mattered for the judges: the bottom line.

When it was time for me to present, I played it straight. I acted the part, as any good actor should: completely. I gave my presentation succinctly, allowing pauses after I had made crucial points. The judges responded well. They laughed at my jokes, asked me questions, and told me what work I needed to do to make the idea better. I learned a lot that night. I learned that the digitization of patient data was a hot market. I learned that PB needed to target more markets.  I learned that I loved talking about PB. At the end of the night, I didn’t make it to the final round, but I had won exactly what I wanted. I won the right to be up there in the first place.

I’m not sure yet if PB will be a pay site, or will be run completely on donation (like Wikipedia). It was good, however, to understand the way business people see PB’s possibilities. As we move forward, what I learned from TVLIC will be indispensable to moving my idea from good to great.


Tagged , , , , ,

Quick Update

Currently, this is the state of the project:

We are in the process of writing the IRB Research Proposal. When this is done, and we are approved, we will be able to start building the PatientBase. This should be done by the end of May 2013.

As well, we are in the process of developing our Ruby on Rails skills, a web development language that we will use to create the website when the time comes.

Once these two projects are complete, PB will be off the ground!


IRB (no, not to root beer)

I’ve discovered recently that I have to get approval to collect my patient data. Since I’m doing this project as part of my master’s thesis at The University of Texas at Austin I have to go through the IRB, Institutional Review Board. Here is the Wikipedia description of IRBs:

“An institutional review board (IRB), also known as an independent ethics committee or ethical review board, is a committee that has been formally designated to approve, monitor, and review biomedical and behavioral research involving humans. They often conduct some form of risk-benefit analysis in an attempt to determine whether or not research should be done.”

Since my data collection is done by survey of not the participants themselves, but their medical providers, I don’t think I’ll have any problems getting approval. I will, however, have to insure that I have a system in place to protect patient data. Since everything will be anonymous, again, this won’t be too big a problem. These are issues I do need to understand completely, however, in order to ensure that the project gets approval.

Time to write my application!


Last night I met up with an old undergraduate friend, Jeremy. He’s currently working for a startup in Austin as a developer and I wanted to meet up with him to get some feedback about Patientbase. As undergraduates, we were in the philosophy department at The University of Texas. We spent our time there investigating the nature of reality, knowledge, language, and more. We spent days and nights attempting to hash out answers from the confines of our own minds. Ah, youth.

Last night we talked about how silly the whole enterprise turned out to be. We were starved for data, we both concluded. As soon as we left our philosophical bubbles, and started reading about empirical studies dealing with the issues we spent so long trying to discover with pure verbage, our questions were answered, one-by-one.

Not to say that our philosophical education was for naught. On the contrary, the exercise of mentally pulling apart the categorical pieces, investigating them individually, and putting them back together again was very good for our ability to think abstractly. I have no doubt that both Jeremy’s and my success is due in part to this skill. The issue is about how we went about achieving our goals, i.e. knowledge about the world.

Which is a great segue! Knowledge is what we need in medicine. Data. Information about what works and what doesn’t. We need the ability to share this too, or we just have a bunch of people reinventing the wheel!

I really enjoyed talking to Jeremy. He seems to be doing well in his new data driven world. Hopefully we will be able to continue to stay in touch as this project moves forward.

What comes first, the website, or the data?

chicken or egg1For awhile, I’ve assumed that I needed to build the website first, at a least a minimally viable one, before I could start gathering collecting data, i.e. getting PatientProfiles. The thinking was that its the only way to get data. I challenged this assumption today and realized that it might not be the best order. The more I think about it, the more getting the data first, the old fashioned way, is optimal. Why? For one, developing the interface to gather information in a certain manner doesn’t really help if you don’t know how you should gather that information. By getting paper data, we can analyze how to best collect that information, parce it, and store it. Second, when the site does open, we want users to see value in using it, without having to first buy into it. I.e. without having to make PatientProfiles.

Now, I have to develop the paper version of the questionnaire. But first, I have to study for a Acquired Cognitive Communications Test on Tuesday!

Speaking with the Guest Speaker…

888d1f26-8f1f-43d9-86be-bdf0ae784791On Thursday, a Speech Language Pathologist who works in a hospital came and talked to our class. He talked about acute care testing, working in out-patient care, and his desire to become a licensed counselor for stoke victims and their families. “There really aren’t that many counselors who are able to treat clients who only have 10 words,” he said. I really admired his desire to move to places where there was a need, while also fulfilling something that he seemed to really want to do.

He talked at length, and in almost every other phrase he mentioned insurance companies. Since part of PatientBase is the desire to bridge the knowledge gap between insurance companies and medical practitioners, I sought him out after the class and told him about the idea. I told him about how clinicians could upload digitized patient information to insurance companies, fulfilling part of the Affordable Care Act. I told him about how that same information could be scrubbed of identifying information and become part of a large “single case study meta-analysis” that would allow medical personal to have access to, allowing them to provide better informed treatment. I told him about how academic and medical journals are just too slow, and too incomplete.

“That sounds like a great idea!” he said. I smiled. It’s nice to be validated. He elaborated: “The way insurance companies work, there’s some 18-year-old, 1800 miles away in front of a computer deciding whether or not to pay out for services provided. If I could just send him a link showing him or her treatment efficacy, that would be amazing.”

He then went on to talk about how some insurance companies are now making “block payments” (I think that’s the phrase he used) to pay for both acute and outpatient care. And that a service like PatientBase would be able to show not just insurance companies, but hospitals that certain treatments were worth expending part of that payment.

I asked him if I could email him to ask him more questions at a later date. He obliged.

Tagged , , , , ,

First Steps…

In December 2012, about a month before I was to be married, I had an idea. It’s an idea that will help medical professionals exchange knowledge with each other. It’s an idea that stems from my work as a Speech Language Pathologist, working with people with aphasia, autism, stuttering and more. It’s an idea that will save time, resources, and lives when fully implemented. That idea is PatientBase.

PatientBase is a database that health care workers can access to search for information about treatments and treatment efficacy for specific illnesses and disorders. The key to PatientBase is the way the information is stored: instead of being sorted by treatment types or disorders, PatientBase is sorted by patient types. Instead of focusing on the disorder, we are focusing on the person. Instead of lumping people into one big generalized population, we are allowing them to be seen as individuals. As the blog continues, PatientBase will be elaborated on more, but for now, this is sufficient.

PatientBase was so compelling when I first thought of it that I started working on it right away. I started thinking about it, writing about it, and talking about it to all that would listen. I recruited a team of seasoned professional in everything from law to finance. I wrote up a business plan, an executive summary and sent it to others to get feedback. I competed in the Texas Venture Labs Investment Competition in February of 2013. I learned as much as I could from that experience, and went right back to the grind-stone. Now, we are building it. And I would like to share this process with you.

I’ve created this blog for two reasons. The first is to document the making of this company, so that everyone can see how we started, where we are, and where we are going. You will see the issues we face, the decisions we take, and why. You will see how we handle adversity, setbacks, and successes. But most important, you will see why we are creating it.

The second reason is that  the sooner people see the benefits of PatientBase, the sooner they can start using it!

Stay tuned, as we take our first steps…

Tagged , ,