Patients embracing Web 2.0 / Health 2.0

The number of consumers in the US using Web 2.0 technologies in relation to health matters (dubbed ‘Health 2.0’) has doubled in the past year to 60 million people, according to a study just released by Manhattan Research.

Manhattan defines Health 2.0 consumers as people who have: 

  • read health-related blogs, message boards or participated in health-related chatrooms;
  • contributed or posted health content online such as: writing or commenting on a health-related blog, adding or responding to a topic in a forum or group, or creating health related web pages, videos or audio content; or
  • used online patient support groups, message boards, chatrooms, or blogs.

The report says, “Pharmaceutical marketers are catching on to the trends, but there’s a long way to go before brand media closes the gap between where consumers are and where budgets are going – only a small fraction of overall pharmaceutical advertising spend is currently allocated to online campaigns. But as we’re seeing with our clients, consumer trends are prompting marketers to put more weight behind digital strategies.”

“…. Social media is a powerful force impacting the pharmaceutical industry – whether or not brands choose to participate. Taking too conservative of an approach to a channel which thrives on two-way dialogue and open communication will undoubtedly distance brands from consumers – especially for those looking to reach the groups most engaged in Health 2.0. And even if brands aren’t yet ready participate in conversations, some sites sell aggregated data to pharmaceutical companies looking to understand the experiences and challenges that patients face.”

Health tops email for Boomer Web use

The 2008 Boomers Online Media & Social Networking Study by J Walter Thompson and Third Age has found that seeking health and wellness information tops the list of Web-based activities reflecting the most interest, at a whopping 97 percent. Email comes second at 96 percent. As someone who just had his first ECG yesterday (Lipitor, here I come), I know that this figure is partly age-driven, but it shows how important the Web is to healthcare. Here’s the top ten list:

Why Google Health?

“You know that money beats soul, every time.” – Jim Morrison, the Doors

I have been itching to write a post where I can slip in a quote from my favourite anti-hero, Jim Morrison. So what on earth does this have to do with Google Health? As I was researching a story about Google and e-health for my oft-mentioned feature for Australian Doctor, I came across some interesting questions – and potential answers – about Google’s foray into something seemingly so far from their core business:

“When it comes to health, Google has become the main place patients turn to for health information online. As well as anecdotal stories such as the US man who walked into a hospital after a Google search of his symptoms correctly led to a self-diagnosis of a heart attack, research shows that seeking health information has consistently rated among the most popular activities of Internet users (more than 80%), and Google is the place where 70% of them start their search.

“Doctors like it too. A study published in Australian Family Physician last month revealed that Google was also more popular with Australian GPs surveyed than the next five web sites combined. They said they used Google because of its ability to lead to other web sites of value, its speed and ease of use, its convenience and its wide applicability.

Looking to the future, Google is also positioning itself for a dominant role in a world where medicine is increasingly linked to the Internet with the recent launch of Google Health, an online personal health record service where patients can enter any or all of their medical histories to create a portable data record that can be accessed by a variety of doctors and other health professionals.

“…. Advocates argue that a Google Health personal health record will result in better-informed patients, fewer redundant tests and better-prepared doctors who can get a more complete picture by having their patients’ entire medical history in front of them. Access to crucial information such as allergies and current medications will allow doctors in scenarios such as emergency rooms to avoid many of the medical mistakes that injure patients or land them in hospital for long stays.

Privacy experts, meanwhile, are up in arms about the potential downsides of such a system, particularly in the hands of a company with no history of handling trusted medical data. They have raised strong concerns that private and personal records could be bought and sold by organisations such as pharmaceutical companies.

“…. Like its other services, Google Health is available free to anyone who is willing to take the time to fill out their profile. The “do no evil” cynics have questioned Google’s motives in straying from its core search business. As a Washington Post writer put it: ‘Why would Google take on such a big, difficult project — creating complex data exchange systems and storing all that personal information — if there’s no way to make money?

“’A strong personal health dashboard linked to other Google services, including its cash-cow search business, can make sure those health-seekers stay with Google rather than with the competition. Like Microsoft, for instance.’”

They may seem like they’re just out to provide a useful service to the Internet-using public, but in the long run, making money – and keeping money out of competitors’ pockets – is behind Google Health.

Money beats soul, every time…

None of our patients is as smart as all of our patients

Following is an excerpt from a story I wrote that has just been published in Australian Doctor:

It’s not just doctors who are sharing stories on the Internet. In the US, a plethora of sites lets patients post observations on their disease progress and management, and search for similar people and post comments, ask questions, form relationships, etc. Sites in this area include Daily Strength (www.dailystrength.org), Caring.com (www.caring.com) and Trusera (www.trusera.com).

The one getting the most publicity at the moment is PatientsLikeMe (www.patientslikeme.com), which boasts as members thousands of people with diseases such as mood disorders, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Founder David S Williams III says patients get more value from recording their health information when they share results with each another.

Williams says one of the most unexpected things that has happened on the site is the interaction springing from the comments members leave on each others’ profiles. “In many ways comments are not central to the site — forum and private messaging support more in-depth conversations.”But PatientsLikeMe has found that members read other people’s profiles to help them reach an informed person to ask advice and offer personally acquired knowledge to people who will benefit from it.

For patients who want to add a bit of expert advice to the mix, Organized Wisdom (www.organizedwisdom.com) offers a medical search service hand-crafted by ‘guides’ appointed by the site owners. The guides are a mixture of physicians and experienced web users. Sites such as DoublecheckMD (www.doublecheckmd.com) operate like consumer medicine information on steroids — they provide every possible adverse reaction, using natural language recognition to allow consumers to search medical texts and match symptoms with the drugs they’re on.

And of course no description of patient-centred Health 2.0 sites would be complete without mentioning doctor rating sites. One of the newest sites, Vitals.com (www.vitals.com), includes an algorithm extracted from physician peer reviews, while Xoova.com (www.xoova.com) offers a directory, ratings and online appointment bookings.

More on Google Health

In researching a feature I’ve been writing about Health 2.0 (more on that next week when it gets published), I’ve been looking into Google Health. While most commentators have focused on the commercial/social/medico-legal aspects of the world’s largest Internet company entering into the murky world of personal health records (PHRs), I came across some technical evaluations of the service. David Kibbe, writing in the Health 2.0 blog, discusses what sets Google Health apart from other online PHR services.

He writes: “Google Health beta makes it possible for machines to accept, read, and interpret one’s health data.  It is one thing to store health data on the Web as a pdf or Word text file, for example one’s immunizations or lab results, where they can be viewed. It is a giant leap forward to make the data both human and machine readable, so that they can be acted upon in some intelligent way by a remote server, kept up-to-date, and improved upon in terms of accuracy and relevance. That is what …Google Health beta achieves for the consumer that is really new and different; this is what HealthVault [Microsoft’s PHR offering] and Dossia [a service set up by five big employer groups in the US including Wal-Mart and AT&T] are to date missing.

“Disruptive innovations are often considered simplistic and compared to toys when they first emerge (remember the first Apple computer?) and there is no stopping these developers and these partner companies from making their services more intelligent, more useful, and more convenient to the consumer.”

Take the time to read through the comments on the posting, which are quite interesting. Here’s an example: “As it is, Google PHR is a non-starter for any open-source advocate (“rapid design evolution” [which seems like marketing 2.0 speak] notwithstanding). Patients want options, not “disruptive” technologies. Again, more marketing-speak and hype. Sorry, but most real patients are a little wiser than that.”

All ages and professions need to get with Web 2.0

This one is a couple of weeks old, but recently came to my attention. Richard Smith, ex-editor of the British Medical Journal, CEO of BMJ Publishing and now involved with open access journals, wrote a terrific blog on the BMJ about how doctors need to expose themselves to the world of Web 2.0/Health 2.0 and the possibilities it presents.

He writes, “Web 2.0 has the potential to improve global health greatly and to solve complex problems in health science. (However,) the barriers to these potential achievements are social and cultural, not technological.

“The machines we can fix. It’s the people – particularly old timers (that’s anybody over 40) – that are the problem.” Smith, who is 56, has some simple advice for his fellow old-timers. “The only way to really understand Web 2.0,” he says, “is to jump in and start using it.”

He recommends everyone sign up for Facebook and concludes, “The essence of Web 2.0 is that it’s bottom up and participative: it’s created by the many, not the few…. Doctors, I fear, are too fond of a top down world – because they are usually at the top. But that top down world is crumbling. Think of Nicolae Ceausescu’s statue being hauled down and smashed. That’s the old world of Web 1.0. Get with Web 2.0 in a serious way or become a yesterday’s person.”