All patients will soon become e-patients

by Daphne Swancutt

I’m having a weird, visceral reaction to all of the recent brouhaha surrounding the term “e-patient.”

For some reason, semantically speaking, the term is slipping in to derogatorium. Up there with “cyberchondriac,” which definitely is derogatory. It’s kind of like research—one day, omigod, it’s Mecca; the next day, it’s the scab on a rotting wound.


I have a chronic condition—I’m not dying, it’s not fatal, I don’t have cancer. Not yet, anyway. But it is absolutely a condition that affects my quality of life. What I also have is the will and the tools to learn more because, unfortunately, my providers simply don’t have all the answers. And they sure don’t have the time to find them.

If I’m a “regular” patient, I simply nod my head, take the next prescription, get a pat on the back, make the next appointment and hope (and even pray) that it’ll work.

This time.

When it doesn’t, I think: This is my fate. Or worse, maybe I’m imagining it (hail to the SSRIs).

But, I’m not a regular patient. I’m pissed and I want answers. Getting those answers is where all those “e’s” come in. I’m proud of those e’s. Proud to have stepped beyond a place of relative ignorance over the years in to something that is…yup, you got it: Empowered. Educated. Enlightened. E-cubed. E-patient.

So, don’t call me a patient. And, don’t just group me in with the rest of the “people.”

I’m a frigging e-patient armed with information that not even my doctors have 90 percent (yes, 90 percent) of the time. Appalling, but true.

One day, we’ll get to a point when all patients are e-patients. Perhaps then, we go back to the future and begin anew with “patient,” which will implicitly suggest e-patient. But, we’re not there, yet. Not today. Not tomorrow. Likely not next year.

Although the Pew study referred to in linked post above tells us that 61 percent of American adults are looking for health information online, that still leaves nearly 40 percent out there who aren’t.

And, for those e-patients who are, they’re going to have to get even more savvy, discriminating and analytical as the volume of health information online continues to expand.

So, toss “e-patient” out to the netherworld? I don’t think so. And, by the way, don’t tell me what I’m supposed to call myself. I decide that.

For now, providers—and others—beware, and be prepared. This e-patient ain’t no regular patient.

Oh, and because I’m bound by my role to tie this back to healthcare marketing and communications, here’s a tip to all of the healthcare marketers and communicators out there: Get familiar with what e-patient means and advocate for the accurate, timely and comprehensive resources we crave. And then some.

Daphne Swancutt is Director, Healthcare Strategy at IMRE, and blogs at HealthIntel.

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