Not so very long ago, prospective patients relied completely on their doctors and nurses for health information. Whether it was diagnosing a serious illness, explaining symptoms the patient was suffering through, or giving nutritional advice, doctors of yore were the sole gatekeepers of medical knowledge. These days, websites like Google or WebMD have given the population instant access to information about medicine and healthcare.
But when does self-diagnosis go too far?
A public forum on health communication (#HCSMForum) held last Monday at UBC’s downtown Vancouver campus opened a discussion about how the internet and social media are changing the nature of health and medicine. Speaker Dr. Gunther Eysenbach, a leading eHealth researcher and editor of the Journal of Medical Internet Research, said that the pattern of patients turning to Dr. Google exclusively for health concerns needs to be discouraged and replaced with a new approach: “patients as partners.” Eysenbach believes that social media is revolutionizing health for the better–particularly for finding participants for clinical trials and research, eDoctoring and monitoring flu outbreaks, etc.–but also by placing patients at the centre of care, empowering them to make their own health choices.
Eysenbach’s vision for Medicine 2.0 also included:
-Focusing on prevention rather than treatment = participation, empowerment
-Focusing on sharing data and experiences rather than maintaining a hierarchal system = openness, transparency
–Focusing on ‘patients as partners’ rather than traditional methods which gave patients inadequate answers to their health concerns – collaboration
–Focusing on ‘wisdom of the crowds’ rather than ‘Doctors know best’ – apomediation
–Websites such as PatientsLikeMe (a social media site for patients to discuss their health concerns with other patients), ThinkHealthBC, Healthy Families BC and MedLinePlus are great resources for patients looking for preliminary answers about their conditions from trusted medical sources who have collaboratively shared their knowledge with the public.