E-patients and how the American health care system doesn’t promote patient empowerment

Good stuff from the UK today – first the Lancet editorial on OTC statins and now this article form the BMJ.

Entitled The first generation of e-patients, the article comes up with these observations about the world of the e-patient:

. . . many clinicians have underestimated the benefits and overestimated the risks of online health resources for patients . . . Many e-patients say that the medical information and guidance they can find online is more complete and useful than what they receive from their clinicians.

. . . medical online support groups have become an important healthcare resource. These groups now provide emotional support, guidance, health information, and medical referrals for nearly all medical conditions””around the world, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, for free.

. . . When clinicians respond negatively to e-patients’ requests to discuss materials they have found online and act as if they feel that their authority is being challenged by such requests, it may damage or disrupt the doctor patient relationship.

As many of you may (or may not) know, I spend a lot of time with online patient education, through my work at Med Help International as well as Google Answers. The American health care system is not conducive to patient empowerment nor education. Not when there is increasing pressure to see more patients every 15 minutes. Not when the focus is in avoiding lawsuits. Not when there is persistant pressure to watch what medications and tests you’re ordering. Physicians get compensated by how many patients they see and how much revenue they generate – physicians who are not “productive” get fired. The patient does not come first in our system.

The e-patient is a natural evolution, and will be more prevalent as the internet-savvy generation ages. Instead of chastising patients for “self-diagnosing over the internet”, we should encourage their wishes to be self-empowered and work with them to properly interpret the information. The e-patient is turning to the internet, because it is there where they come first.