Johns Hopkins Students Create Health Records for the Homeless

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Hopkins students and alumni demonstrate how to use the Networking Health system. Photo courtesy the Johns Hopkins Engineering Magazine.

For most of us, electronic medical records (EMRs) are a routine part of medical care. They help various doctors track our ongoing complaints, show our medical history, and keep all sorts of vital information in one place. But that’s not the case for everyone. For many of Baltimore’s homeless, health care is a patchwork system of emergency room visits, free clinics, and sporadic care. Which is exactly why a group of Johns Hopkins students banded together to create an innovative program to make sure the homeless have access to their own medical paperwork.

“Without access to their own medical records, there is no way these individuals can receive an equal standard of care,” said Eugene Semenov, a 2007 Hopkins grad (and currently a third-year medical student at the school). Last year, Semenov and classmate Michael Morris founded Networking Health, a non-profit funded in part by an Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. Networking Health provides local clinics and shelters with access to a secure, private database. When a homeless patient visited the Baltimore Rescue Mission Medical Clinic complaining of hip pain, volunteer medical students called up his record and saw that the problem had persisted since November — a sign that his hip was possible dislocated. The clinic’s volunteers help prepare the paperwork for a hip X-ray. Without the database, the man may well have been treated for his immediate pain, and then sent on his way once more — a cyclical neglect that could eventually make the problem much worse.

The next phase of the project is even more ambitious:  an internet-based portal that would allow the homeless to have access to their own medical histories. “The idea is to allow patients to view their medical records much like people can access banking information,” says Avi Rubin, director of the Health and Medical Security Lab, who’s helping make sure the records are secure.



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