I KNOW it will be said, that diffusing medical knowledge among the people, might induce them to tamper with Medicine, and to trust to their own skill instead of calling a physician. The reverse of this, however, is true. Persons who have most knowledge in these matters are commonly most ready both to ask and to follow advice, when it is necessary.
So here we are, in 2009, and this quote from Dr. Buchan, written in his book Domestic Medicine in 1785, is still true today...
The topic of this post, Part 2 in the series of The Value of the Internet for Improving Healthcare, will discuss resources for individuals seeking to learn more about medical conditions for themselves and/or their families.
Part 2: Online Healthcare Information
Since older adults generally have more chronic illnesses, the anticipated trend of rising healthcare costs will be significant and aging baby boomers further support industry and government concerns over managing the rising cost of public healthcare.
To address these issues, government and insurers are now attempting to provide reliable online information in an effort to make policies, coverage options, treatments and costs easier to understand. Each year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) publishes an annual picture of the health of the entire Nation containing facts and figures on the nation's health status, utilization, resources, and expenditures. In 2008, they reported that
"longer life spans are generally considered desirable, particularly when healthy years of life are increased. However, with an aging population and longer life expectancy comes increasing total prevalence of chronic diseases and conditions associated with aging, such as disability and limitation of activity. The percentage of the population 75 years of age and over was 6% in 2006 and is projected to double by 2050."
According to a Harris Poll from 2009, more Americans are using the internet to get healthcare information. However, there are many websites that provide inaccurate or incomplete information. This is partially due to the fact that web content is virtually unregulated.
In order to improve reliability, online information should provide information that is vetted among dependable sources. This is particularly significant in order to establish trust from users of the information. Although patients want access to their health records, many patients and providers have expressed concerns about trust and privacy when using the Internet as a source of medical information related to their personal health history (e.g. EHRs). For more information about Privacy & Security of personal health information click here.
Advocacy groups and other public healthcare providers have compiled lists of websites that can be considered trustworthy sources. They are using public forums to distribute this information to the general population. One such website, WebMD, provides reliable information on treatment options, disease management, drug interactions, and prevention measures that can empower consumers of health care services.
Older adults generally opt for traditional sources of medical information – doctors, insurance companies, friends, print media, and advocacy groups – because they are familiar with them. However, these sources generally do not provide “just-in-time information” – specific information, on a specific topic, at a specific moment in time. Reliable healthcare information on the Internet provides a source of “just-in-time” data that has the potential to help adults make well-informed decisions regarding their healthcare options.
Barriers to use of Online Healthcare Information
Training and access to technology is only one of the factors that seems to be slowing the adoption of Internet use. Public health advocacy groups and government institutions are helping to address this problem by providing computer access and training in public libraries and social centers.
Regardless of the opportunity to receive free computer training, it seems that minorities, the rural population, and older adults living at poverty levels are disadvantaged in their quest to obtain quality medical information due to lack of training and access to computers.
For many new computer users, mastering use of the mouse is a difficult hurdle. Intergenerational classes have been successful in reducing fear of the technology. These classes are provided with the goal of teaching the mechanics of using computers and keyboarding, as well as assisting users in making sense of the information they retrieve from the Internet.
Established in 1979, The National Health Information Center puts health professionals and consumers who have health questions in touch with organizations that are able to provide answers. The CDC also has information for healthcare consumers of all ages, including Health & Safety Topics such as:
- Diseases & Conditions: ADHD, birth Defects, Cancer, Diabetes, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Flu, Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, STDs...
- Healthy Living: Bone Health, Physical Activity, Immunizations, Genetics, Sexual Health, Smoking Prevention...
- Emergency Preparedness & Response: Bioterrorism, Chemical & Radiation Emergencies, Severe Weather...
- Injury, Violence & Safety: Brain Injury, Child Abuse, Falls, fires, Food Safety, Poisoning Suicide, Youth Violence..
- Environmental Health: Air Pollution, Carbon Monoxide, Lead, Mold, Water Quality, Climate Change...
- Traveler's Health: Destinations, Outbreaks, Travel Vaccinations, Yellow Book...
- Life Stages & Populations: Infant & Child, Men, Minorities, Pregnancy, Seniors, Women...
- Workplace Safety & Health: Asbestos, Chemical Safety, Construction, Mining, Office Environments, Respirators...
Although the CDC provides quality information online, people should always check with their primary MD or ARNP if they believe an illness exists. As Dr. Buchan stated, persons who are knowledgeable in their health matters are commonly most ready both to ask and to follow advice, when it is necessary.
Herein lies one of the best reasons for Physicians/ARNPs to implement EHRs. As more people are able to acquire information related to their health status and medical treatments, they may play a more active role in managing their healthcare (e.g. "the empowered patient") with the goal of improved health outcomes.
Insurers also have a vested interest in providing quality information in an effort to help drive down medical costs. Advocacy groups and government public health researchers view the aging population and rising medical costs as a serious public health issue that needs to be addressed. The CDC reports that "The United States spends more on health per capita than any other country."
According to recent statistics from the World Health Organization the United States ranks as one of the lowest in terms of mortality and one of the highest in terms of healthcare costs. (Click on the picture to make it larger.)
Given these concerns over the rising costs of healthcare, the aging population, increased prevalence of disease and health conditions, and the value of reliable medical information, the trend toward "meaningful use" of EHRs and online information access will continue to be a significant factor toward managing the nation’s future health care costs and improving health outcomes. Potentially the most important policy issue in our lifetime.
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