The Internet is a seemingly infinite repository of health information. While some of the info out there may be spurious, the concept of a healthcare website has definite merit. Online healthcare resources such as encyclopedias and forums can educate consumers, facilitate communication between patients and physicians, and keep providers apprised of health issues that are of interest to the public. Patient blogs and social media postings have value as well. In a September article from Medical Devices Today, digital strategy leader Alex Vandevere is quoted as saying, “Patient blogs and postings are still very influential in terms of decision making, probably still the number-one force for analyzing consumer sentiment.”
WebMD is one of the most popular and best known healthcare information sites. The website provides healthcare news and info along with a variety of interactive tools. Users can find a therapist, plan a diet and fitness regimen, or discuss health conditions with other users. WebMD also offers a mobile app so users can check their symptoms or learn about first aid on the go.
RelayHealth Corporation provides communication services that allow patients to interact online with their healthcare providers. Patients can schedule appointments, renew prescriptions and get lab results online. For non-urgent matters, patients may submit a form with their symptoms instead of booking an appointment. Users can also create a personal health record that can be shared with healthcare providers.
HealthCentral operates more than 35 condition- and wellness-specific websites, which cover topics ranging from diabetes to multiple sclerosis to mental health. The company also operates wellsphere.com, home to over 3,000 health bloggers. HealthCentral President Jeremy Shane says that the company provides a “whole-patient experience” that deals not only with the clinical aspect of disease, but how to manage its treatment. The site also allows patients to interact with others who suffer from the same disease. A breast cancer patient may not be able to relate to her doctor, but she can relate to another breast cancer patient. “[HealthCentral] helps them connect with other people who have been there, and it helps them over time to become more educated and compliant patients,” says Shane.
Users of eDocAmerica can request medical information from board-certified physicans and get a response within 24 hours. Physicians reply with advice and articles that are tailored to the user’s specific needs. The site also offers health assessments, weekly health tips, a searchable medical library and a 24-hour nurse advice line. Matt Henry, Director of Client Relations for eDocAmerica, believes the company provides a valuable service for consumers who are investigating health issues. “Having that info filtered through a physician gives them the confidence to actually do something about it.” Henry also sees a benefit for healthcare providers. “I think a more informed patient makes for a more efficient office visit.”
Government resources provide an additional source of knowledge. On Wednesday, the Obama administration announced an “open government” initiative that included plans for healthcare transparency. The Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Community Health Data Initiative will include an online knowledge bank that covers healthcare costs, quality, and access. The DHHS already operates healthfinder.gov, which offers interactive personal health tools and detailed resources on a wide range of health conditions. Other government-run sites include the National Institutes of Health’s Medline Plus (which provides health information from the National Library of Medicine) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
For those interested in drug and device approvals, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a new transparency initiative this week. FDA-TRACK (Transparency-Results-Accountability-Credibility-Knowledge-Sharing) will monitor over 100 program offices using key performance measures. Every quarter, the performance data will be analyzed and presented to FDA senior leaders. The program is designed to increase accountability and give citizens a better understanding of the agency’s responsibilities.
Reading about a condition is not equivalent to a diagnosis, and too much information may send some patients into hypochondria. But used correctly, online healthcare resources can be another useful tool in the push for personal healthcare responsibility. Do you know of any healthcare websites that do a particularly good job of informing users? Please comment and let us know.