EMR Lessons from an Online Dating Website

The healthcare information age is upon us.  With federal incentives to adopt Electronic Medical Records (EMR), more and more medical practices are going paperless. An important benefit of EMR is ease of data collection and analysis.  As patient treatments and outcomes are stored electronically, rich data sets become available to medical practices.  Responses to treatments can be measured and used to guide future treatment decisions.  For example, analysis can identify variations in treatment responses by sub-populations, with the promise of more personalized medicine.

In the past, this kind of patient outcomes data analysis was something primarily done by insurance companies, because of their access to lots of patient information.  EMR systems now bring this power to the healthcare providers.  Now that they have the infrastructure to collect data, they can begin to better understand their own patients.  But because this is a newly acquired capability, it may take time before providers fully understand the potential of data analysis.

As an illustration of an organization that does know the power of data, we can turn to the dating website OkCupid.  In the same way that EMR digitizes patient record keeping, dating websites have taken the acts of courting (answering personal questions, winking, being rejected, lining up dates and hopefully finding love) digital.  And just like EMR, records of these transactions provide rich data sets for analysis.  OkCupid does a great job of analyzing user interactions through the site and sharing interesting trends that they identify via a blog they call OkTrends.

For example:

1) Analysis of the words that appear frequently in messages that get the most responses compared to those that get few responses.  Tips: Use an unusual greeting instead of hi/hey/hello.

2) The types of profile pictures that get the most responses.  Tip: Guys, take your shirt off and hold a puppy.

3) The lies people tell in their profile.  Tip: Ladies, guys are on average 2 inches shorter and 20% poorer than they claim.

Chart showing how the male population of OkCupid.com is about 2 inches taller than the US population, suggesting some distorted self-images.

OkCupid cleverly takes advantage of the wealth of information it generates to provide a pretty fascinating look into the online dating world.  It is an interesting example of how electronically collected data enables analysis that can help identify and understand trends.   Such data analysis has the potential to lead to smarter decision making in the future.  In the same way that a saavy single can use OkCupid’s analysis to improve their courting interactions online, healthcare providers have the opportunity to improve their practice of medicine through data collection and analysis.

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