- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2008

A senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, John Haughton figured the pain in his leg was a stress fracture from running track. The hospital sent him to an orthopedic surgeon. It was 1981.

“It turned out to be bone cancer,” he recalled matter-of-factly.

The 18-year-old - who rode his moped on lunch breaks to undergo chemotherapy treatments - was able to beat the disease with the help of doctors at the National Institutes of Health.

The experience of being a cancer patient inspired him to seek a medical degree after studying electrical engineering at the University of Michigan. But midway through his third year of medical school, Dr. Haughton realized that a career in the operating room wasn’t for him.

Instead, he set his sights on reforming the health care system through technology - working to make better software programs for physicians to keep track of patients; in turn, he hoped to improve the quality of care.

“A lot of making the medical system more efficient from care delivery is having the right communication happening at the right time,” said Dr. Haughton, a Severna Park resident. “In terms of having the patient get the necessary care at the point that it’s needed and not too much and not too little.”

His latest venture, DocSite LLC, has developed a suite of programs for doctors to manage their patients in a virtual setting.

“Some of it is trying to model within the computer world the right things that might happen in the physical world,” Dr. Haughton explained. “If you use a patient with a stroke as an example, is there something reversible … is there a way you can optimize medications, can you break through the clot, are you expecting another one, is there something you need to do in an acute hospital setting?”

Then, there are questions about what secondary problems could arise, he added.

“If you give someone [who had a stroke] a drink of water in the ER, they can’t swallow; it goes down their lungs and now you have pneumonia,” he said. “There’s just too much stuff out there to remember all at once.”

DocSite is not a personal health record system like those pushed by major technology companies Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. Dr. Haughton acknowledged some merit in the idea of patients being in control of their records, but said that doesn’t improve care.

“The train of thought is medicine doesn’t have a lot of electronic health records, banking and a lot of things do; if we get the electronic health records then everything will be fine,” he said. “But then you can miss the forest through the trees. … Instead of measuring success as how many hospitals are hooked up to a database, success [is] how many patients didn’t go into a hospital who were supposed to.”

To achieve that, DocSite focuses on workflow patterns, providing tools that digitize a patient’s information to aid physicians before a visit as well as during triage. One feature applies clinical guidelines to a patient’s medical data to help support decision-making.

The state of Vermont uses DocSite to track chronic diseases, and the Presbyterian Health System in New Mexico is another customer. The service is priced at $720 a year, per doctor, or $60 a month.

Asked whether health care is ahead of or behind other sectors when it comes to technology, Dr. Haughton said it’s neither.

“I think it’s different, it’s multifaceted,” he said. “One of the complexities is health care is a right, which is great. And then it’s a complexity because you have big businesses and you have small providers and there never really has been a huge incentive for all to kind of come together and coordinate.”

So, in the meantime, the only way to lower costs is to make things more efficient, he said.

“The biggest bang for the buck is trying to minimize acute events for patients with chronic diseases. Somebody with heart failure, who doesn’t take medicines quite right, might end up in the hospital four or five times a year,” he said. “If you coordinate and track that right, maybe they don’t up in a hospital at all.”

Dr. Haughton, 45, lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their three daughters.

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