It’s not about online health information, it’s what consumers do with that information

There is a lot, and I mean a lot, of health information on the Internet.  Unfortunately there is also a lot of bad health information on the Internet and consumers have to pretty much figure out for themselves which sites offer credible and good health information, that they can understand, and which ones are full of garbage.  What we should be worried about however is not all the health information that’s out there but what decisions consumers are making with information in hand.

I continue to read statistics that indicate that less patients are going to see their doctors.  This is very concerning because it means that people are either self diagnosing, don’t have the time or money for a visit or don’t view their health as a priority right now.  Either way it could lead to substantial increases in healthcare costs in the future.

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With looming Federal budget cuts on the horizon I don’t see anyway that the FDA can protect consumers from bad online health information.  Essentially consumers are going to have to figure out for themselves what is credible and what is garbage. This may be one reason why consumers have to spend so much time online researching health conditions.

The way consumers collect health information varies with their needs and other triggers such as a diagnosis or bothersome pain. The bottom line is that today’s consumers are more likely to visit a variety of health sites as they collect information.  Those sites will include a health portal like Yahoo Health and probably a drug.com site if the site is optimized for search.  To date I believe the drug industry spends way too much money on paid search and does not bother to really check the ROI beyond clicks.

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So the issue then is “what are consumers going to do when they have all the information they want?”  We can only hope that they use it to engage their HCP in dialogue rather than monologue.  Physicians are going to have to get used to patients coming in with health information.  They cannot routinely dismiss patients with the “I  don’t have time to explain everything to you” attitude because that is going to probably result in a non compliant patient.

When a dialogue is established with the patient I am willing to bet that it leads to better health outcomes but that dialogue has to extend beyond the doctor’s office.  Physicians and insurers have to learn to treat patients like individual people and reach out to them to ensure they do what their physician suggested.   It is common practice now for hospitals to call patients after a procedure to ask them if everything is OK.  That might be the approach that is needed by physicians because it is likely that patients are going to have more questions after they have a chance to go home and research an Rx or health condition.

Engagement is not just a word today, it’s a way of thinking and that has to extend to health care as well.

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