Improving Health Care at the Push of a Button

French expat, Bettina Experton, MD, is determined to prevent medical errors and results deaths. For years she has been pioneering technological advances that put health care freedom in the hands of consumers.

The Statue of Liberty, a gift to the United States from the people of France, was dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886. The statue is a robed female figure representing Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom.

Nearly 100 years later, in 1981, the U.S. received another gift from France when Bettina Experton, MD, MPH, turned a one-year sabbatical into a career-changing emigration. Today, as founder, president and chief executive officer of Humetrix, she is pioneering technological advances that are putting health care freedom in the hands of millions of consumers.

“I was a young member of the Paris School of Medicine, and I won first prize in medical teaching, which gave me the privilege of a one-year sabbatical anywhere in the world,” Experton recalls. “I seized the opportunity to go to the U.S., received an offer to join the faculty at the University of California, San Diego, as a research fellow, and left my previous position in France. My chairman in France was not happy with me; he thought it was a foolish move on my part. But I was excited by the opportunities in the United States.”

As it turns out, Experton’s decision was anything but foolish.

Focus on public health

Experton’s background was oncology and immunology, and after she arrived in the U.S. she obtained a degree in public health. She became a California public health officer and discovered the world of population medicine. But the discovery that really paved the path for the work she would accomplish came in the computer science courses she took while obtaining her masters in public health. She discovered the field of information technology.

“As physicians we rely on information to be able to diagnose and treat,” Experton says. “That information may come from our patients. We ask them what is the problem for which they seek care. Information is key. And having access to that information at the time when a decision is being made from the clinical viewpoint is critical. That data — the past medical history of the patient ranging from medications they’re on to procedures they’ve had and providers they’ve seen — speaks to the quality of care you deliver. And I decided right then that information technology could solve those critical issues of access to up-to-date patient information at the point of care.”

That decision led to the founding of Humetrix, which has been developing software over the last 15 years so patients can share critical information with their physicians, who can in turn provide the best care for their patients.

The Blue Button

With Experton leading the charge, Humetrix pioneered the use of smart cards — plastic cards imbedded with a computer chip containing a complete medical history that patients could carry with them wherever they received care.

“I think 100,000 deaths could be prevented every year by eliminating medical errors,” Experton says. “And medical errors happen because complete information is not available to physicians. The logical IT solution is one by which patients can carry their information in a digital form.”

In 2010, when President Obama announced an initiative by CMS and the Department of Defense to provide easy online access for veterans and Medicare and Medicaid patients to their medical records, called the Federal Blue Button program, Experton and Humetrix developed an app platform called iBlueButton. Now, patients carrying a smartphone can, at the touch of a button, securely download their medical records to their phone. Then, using the iBlueButton app, can transform the record into a usable health summary that the patient and physician can view at the point of care.

Experton and her Humetrix colleagues weren’t done, though. The company recently announced a cross-platform capability for the iBlueButton app, enabling patients and physicians to securely exchange health records at the point of care regardless of the device they are using — iPhone, iPad or Android smart phone.

“Today, more than 60% of physicians are using tablets,” Experton says. “Patients can now transmit their Blue Button record from their phone right to the physician’s iPad. It’s critically important in terms of preventing those thousands of medical errors and deaths every year in America.”

Still dancing

Though rare with her demanding schedule, Experton still finds time to enjoy activities that are important parts of her life. Before attending medical school in France, she was a professional ballet dancer, and credits the craft with disciplining her to focus on a career in medicine. Today, in the privacy of her garage, she still turns on some music and dances.

“I think it becomes part of you,” says Experton, of the dancing. “When you train for so many years, starting at a young age … my mother used to say I starting dancing before I could walk. So I guess it’s just in me.”

Living near the ocean in southern California, Experton takes advantage of the environment to run on the beach. And in years past, won a west coast championship for wind surfing. Today, however, those opportunities are few.

“I’m too driven to accomplish the mission,” she admits.

That mission, to prevent medical errors and resulting deaths, has enabled Experton to make several visits to the White House—trips that have helped add fuel to her fire.

“The first time you go [to the White House] you get the sense of responsibility and purpose,” Experton says. “Being there, where policies are made, where executive decisions are being made for the country, I got the sense of the responsibility that I was there to make a difference in health care. And compelled to communicate the best I could how this type of technology we were working on could meet those needs in health care policy goals to improve the care of Americans nationwide. And so every time I go there, I have this feeling of mission and duty to try to be impactful.”

Experton points to the 38 million Americans impacted by Medicare fee-for-service who have access to Blue Button records, and says it’s imperative to prevent medical errors and deaths among that population.

“For me, as a physician, I’m driven every day to make that happen,” Experton says.