The online presence of health information empowers patients

The growth in internet and social media networking has introduced a new era in healthcare.

This growth in mobile health, or “mHealth”, will have a number of implications, which can be broadly defined as a new opportunity for health professionals to explore, listen and engage with both patients and colleagues.

In order to maximize the advantage of connected care solutions, we must first identify how advances in social media and mobile technologies have shifted the paradigm for consuming health information online. By engaging patients online regarding information and issues affecting them, doctors can incorporate the availability, flexibility and mobility inherent in mHealth approaches to care in order to make healthcare more accessible.

The online presence of doctors and health-related information empowers patients who are more knowledgeable than ever before. The accessibility of the internet and combination of online healthcare providers significantly reduces barriers to entry which in turn will help reduce healthcare inequalities. Social media makes it easier than ever for patients and physicians to connect outside the examination room. Networks such as Facebook and Twitter offer a forum for providing and responding to medical information.

Twitter is regarded as one of the premier sites for breaking information and many doctors could utilize Twitter to issue real-time health alerts and reminders to their patients, arguably developing the doctor-patient relationship.

The internet could also be successfully used to positively improve patients’ treatment plans by tailoring these towards individual needs. Patients could track/update their condition using an online portal which their doctor could also access allowing specific treatment decisions to be made on an individual basis. Tracking compliance, vital signs, medication, and coordinating care with other healthcare professionals could all be accomplished using the internet. Patients may gain the ability to ask brief questions saving the time, cost and effort of a more traditional consultation.

The meteoric rise of smartphones and advanced internet connectivity potentially offers numerous new methods to communicate. Doctors can now share images, patient medical records and much more with colleagues over the internet thereby removing any barriers to consult, such as location. Second opinions can be easily obtained which will improve the care of patients. The introduction of telemedicine and cloud growth combined with the development of electronic health records could vastly improve efficiency and allow doctors more time to focus on the real issue – caring for and treating patients.

However, to accomplish this we must first develop a common infrastructure for connected care devices and engage the public regarding strategies to inform and educate the public about mHealth developments while being mindful to address any ethical, social, and cultural issues such as improving accessibility and equity.

Ultimately, the growth and introduction of social media/the internet have fundamentally changed the way we communicate with a greater emphasis on engagement and information sharing amongst both professional colleagues and the patients themselves. By taking advantage of these communication channels, we can focus more on individual patients and their treatment regimes whilst reducing healthcare costs and improving patient outcomes.

Tom Lewis is a medical student who blogs at iMedicalApps.com, where this article originally appeared.

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  • Steve Wilkins

    The evidence on this subject is clear – simply giving people health information via the Web, smart phones,  or brochures,  do not lead to long term health behavior change.  To be effective, such information must be provided within the context of an existing/trusting patient-provider relationship which facilitate asking questions, self care skill development and the development of self care efficacy. 

    Similarly, everyone is not predisposed to seek health care information as your post implies.  Some people with an external locus of control believe that they are a victim of genetics or perhaps the environment and there is nothing they can do to change things so why bother.   Others find the huge amount of health information available “out there” overwhelming and disempowering. 

    The reality is that the foci of the kind of behavior changes you discuss in your post is the physician-patient relationship…and most people want it that way.  Check out this post about Dr. Abraham Verghese – The Power Of A Physician’s Touch http://wp.me/pGXmn-vL

    Steve Wilkins
    http://www.healthecommunications.wordpress.com

    • maribelchavez

      Not everyone cares to educate him or herself but it is great that reputable websites are there to refer to.  Physicians simply don’t have the time to explain everything.  It’s true that it’s best to combine what you’ve learned on the web with advice from someone who has had the formal education and real-life experience.  Sometimes physicians and patients may have slightly different interests at heart too.  Doctors need to be concerned with missing something rare that they can be blamed for in the near future.  A patient may question the necessity of a CT scan because he is concerned about raising his risk of cancer decades from now (which a doctor wouldn’t necessarily be concerned about because by that time he’d be long out of the picture.)  And I’m only talking about having a discussion, not thinking you know better than a doctor.  It’s hard to have a somewhat meaningful discussion with your physician when you’re medically illiterate.