In 2004, I researched use of the internet for improving healthcare. At that time, the Internet was in its "infancy" with respect to "cloud computing" and reliable online healthcare information. And... electronic health records and telemedicine were only vague ideas on the horizon. Now these technologies are becoming mainstream.
A leading visionary in patient centric care summarized the issue both with eloquence and clarity:
The cure of diseases is doubtless a matter of great importance; but the preservation of health is of still greater. This is the concern of every man, and surely what relates to it ought to be rendered as plain and obvious to all as possible.
The desire to obtain useful and valuable health information started well before the Internet was born, in fact, way before there was a computer.. In 1785, a British physician, Dr. William Buchan, the author of the quote above, published the first home health care book, Domestic Medicine, which sold over 80,000 copies, in 19 English editions, and was translated into all the main European languages before his death in 1805. Dr. Buchan was a visionary who anticipated the need for medical consumers to become knowledgeable about their health.
So where are we headed? In the last part of this article I will offer some insights and predictions on where current trends are likely to lead.
Here is a video explaining where we were in the 1960s with healthcare and technology.
PART 1: Introduction
The arrival of computers and new technologies into mainstream life continue to impact the way in which people receive and disseminate information on a variety of topics, particularly healthcare. Governmental agencies such as the National Institute for Aging, the National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus, and others, publish websites with hundreds of health topics.
Insurers are also moving online to provide consumers with information regarding costs and medical treatment options. In an article published in 2004 by the Healthcare Forum Journal, David Weber claimed that "consumer-oriented healthcare delivery ... [is] the next 'megatrend' for the [healthcare] industry" (Weber, David O. "The Empowered Consumer" ). Consumer-oriented healthcare is a primary policy goal and core objective today and so David's prediction, as far as I can tell, appears to be directly on point.
Why is that? Patients want to become more knowledgeable about their health. This fact is not new. In fact, consumer oriented-healthcare delivery is one of the key care goals within the "meaningful use matrix" - "Provide patients and families with timely access to data, knowledge, and tools to make informed decisions to manage their health."
So where are we now?
Now, over two hundred years after Dr. Buchan's quote, we are still reaching for this goal. For many older adults, print media, physicians, and advocacy groups still dominate as preferred sources of healthcare information. Although, the Internet is now gaining respect as an alternative source of data for all medical consumers. Advances in technology and the demographics of aging baby boomers are significant marketplace factors that will change the way in which consumers of healthcare services manage costs, treatment, and medical options.
Medical information is a topic of high priority interest. In 2004, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, of the 8 million seniors online, 66% reported using the Internet for healthcare related information research (Fox). Today, they report that 24 million Americans use a home computer for some personal or work-related task. In addition, there are thousands of websites that provide health related information, making the Internet a confusing and intimidating source of information for many. One thing is certain, the 24/7 online digital universe that we all now inhabit, will continue to capture more and more of our attention, for healthcare as well as other aspects of our lives.
The next post in this series, Part 2: Online Healthcare Information will discuss the reliability, quality and kinds of data available today. As we move more health information online, security and privacy become even more important and will be discussed as well.
Here are links to the next posts in the series:
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