Introducing the Pitch Day Finalists: Breaking Barriers in Medical Knowledge

Oct 14, 2013, 8:00 AM, Posted by

What if you could remove the barriers involved in accessing and understanding medical knowledge? Entrepreneur, journalist and author Fred Trotter has a vision for doing just that. He's one of eight finalists we invited to pitch ideas live and in person at the first-ever Pioneer Pitch Day. Trotter was one of three presenters invited to submit a full proposal for potential funding. Read Trotter's 1,000-character proposal below.

Trotter is a founder of Not Only Development, a health care technology software and consulting firm, and co-author of Hacking Healthcare. You can follow him on Twitter at @fredtrotter.

Pioneer: Congratulations on being a Pitch Day finalist! What made you decide to submit your idea?

RWJF has a history of both trying and succeeding with really risky ideas. I am especially a fan of the OpenNotes work, which has generated both usable applications and foundational research about how patients want to interact with their own data. So I felt like this idea might be a good fit for RWJF. 

Pioneer: Tell us about the origins of your idea.

Fred Trotter: There are really two inspirations for my idea.

First, the DocGraph project has focused me on the potential for creating new open health care data sets. Our original data sets have had and continue to have a huge impact on the health care system, but they happened because I stumbled onto a very valuable new open data set. Now I actively seek these kinds of data sets out.

Second, I noticed how my wife and all of her medical student friends were struggling to process the massive amounts of data that medical school requires them to ingest, understand and apply. Specifically, I was interested in how they were using the Internet, and how I could make that into a new data source.

Pioneer: What do you believe is the most innovative aspect of your idea? 

Trotter: The central problem with medical students contributing their browsing patterns is the loss of privacy that this would normally create for them. I found a technical approach that addresses this concern. Without assurances of privacy I doubt any medical student would be willing to contribute this kind of information, so this is a pretty big deal.

Pioneer: Who is an innovative thinker who has inspired your own work — why and how?

Trotter: I am an open data advocate, and I believe real transparency can change health care. My data makes many in the health care system uncomfortable and much of what I do remains controversial. I am inspired by people who have taken these maxims much farther than I have. 

I am especially inspired by the bravery and commitment of Edward Snowden, Aaron Swartz, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange. I cannot always agree with their methods and moral positions, but they have certainly changed things. 

I would prefer to emulate the successes of Mike Bostock (the author of D3, a popular open-source library for visualizing data using web standards), who really found a way to have a profound work by doing something that enabled lots of other people to do interesting things. He is not as controversial as the first batch, but in many ways his work is just as significant. 

Pretty much anything ProPublica does is amazing too. I am especially impressed by Ivan Oransky who runs Retraction Watch as a "side" project.

Proposal Submission: Barriers in Medical Knowledge

What if you could remove the barriers involved in accessing and understanding medical knowledge? What if engaged patients had a clear path to becoming experts in their own condition? What if primary care doctors had a clear path to understanding specialist topics? What if specialists had a clear path to understanding and disseminating advances in their field? Right now, the way information dissemination happens in healthcare is deeply broken. Patients cannot learn enough. Doctors don't have time to teach patients or each other. Medical students are overwhelmed with more and more information in each class. Medical science is leaping forward, but medical practice is not keeping up. We can fix this. How? I could go into how to merge Big Data, Crowd sourcing, Graph Analysis and Wikipedia to fix this problem. But then were would the mystery be in that? We think we have found a way to fix this problem. We would like to pitch you on how exactly.

Got a pioneering idea of your own? We’d love to hear from you.


This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.