Jacob Goldstein at the WSJ just wrote a piece about a pilot program that Pfizer is funding to try and help track adverse reactions to drugs once they've hit the market. This is a real problem --- right now, once the clinical trials are done we pretty much have a black hole. The pilot attempts to fix this by making it super-easy for a doctor to report side effects while they are documenting a visit. Not a bad idea --- assuming you can wire enough systems to create reports, and impact doc behavior sufficiently that you get a good sample.
I think there's a better, cheaper and quicker way - why not just ask the folks that are actually taking the drugs?
Imagine that when you pick up a new drug, the pharmacist points out that the package insert contains a URL where you can learn more about your condition and sign up to automatically receive notice of any warnings or recalls. Given the hit-or-miss way this information is currently handled in the market - this would be an easy recommendation for the pharmacist to make.
Now what if that URL pointed to a simple HealthVault application ... and that the patient could be prompted each month with a quick survey of their progress with the medication, any perceived side effects or new conditions, hospital visits, and so on ... all powered by the health record that the patient is building up anyways.
The end result is a near real-time, aggregated view of the performance of the drug in the market - coupled with an efficient channel to alert patients to issues when necessary. Yes, at some level the patient information will be "messy" and some folks will even lie --- but that is the magic of statistics and the sample sizes available through the Internet --- at the end of the day, it will all wash out to useful information.
This is why we built HealthVault in the first place --- to enable really disruptive solutions that change the way healthcare happens. Of course there is a ton of heavy lifting still to do just getting data pipes hooked up - we are working on that every day. But the real magic will happen when companies like Pfizer start thinking about how to involve patients, not just providers, to solve problems like this.
Let's go already!