MedCity news recently held a fireside chat with Greg Simon, President of the Biden Cancer Initiative, in which he recalled a controversial conversation between Vice President Biden and Judy Faulkner (Epic).

Ms Faulkner is said to have asked “why do you want your medical records? They’re a thousand pages of which you understand ten”. In classic form, Biden retorted “None of your business. If I need to, I’ll find someone to explain them to me and, by the way, I will understand a lot more than you think I do”.

It’s easy to sneer at Ms Faulkner’s attitude, but harder to admit that she’s partially right. I really do only want to see ten pages, but perhaps not the ten pages, she’s thinking of. Instead, I want to see ten pages or less that summarizes the other thousand pages and makes sense of my medical condition in language that I can take to an expert for an opinion.

The kind of summaries that I’m interested in are not “discharge summaries” or “continuity of care” documents sent from an EMR. Rather, I’m looking for a summary based on my complete digital record that provides a view of my current condition while bringing forth the most important information that can be used for treatment.

In short, I’m looking for the summary that helps the clinician to help me.

Putting together such a summary is a non-trivial task that has historically been delegated to nurses, third-year medical students, and other clinical specialist roles. However, with the advent of new natural language processing techniques and more accurate optical character recognition techniques more automation has become possible.

When armed with these summaries patients will be able to approach their physicians as informed participants in their own health who might even understand more of their medical history than some would give them credit for.

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