Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Internet-Fueled Self Diagnosis

I was the epitome of good health in my 20s and early 30s. Sure, I’d come down with the occasional sniffles, yet I was fortunate to steer clear of any significant sports injury, accident, bacterial infection or viral affliction.

That changed with parenthood and my current flirtation with 40. I can now count on a run-of-the-mill, yet irritating cold every few months and I spent the better part of a year dealing with an unpleasant case of viral pink eye. (Word to the wise, do not splash around in the baby pool with your children.)

To make matters worse, I recently injured my knee playing basketball at the local sports club and now have to ice down every time I take the court. My doctor gave me wonderful advice: “Stop playing basketball with people 10 years younger than you.”

Of course, when I finally get around to visiting a doctor I come armed with the medical knowledge obtained from hours of Internet research. I scour sites like WebMD and Patientslikeme. I punch my best guesses into Google to see what it spits out. And I try to track down credible bloggers who (hopefully) carry actual medical credentials.

For my knee, the symptoms of pain, swelling and a general feeling of dread convinced me that I was faced with serious cartilage damage. It’s microfracture surgery for me, I told my orthopedist. Luckily, he chose to rely on the results of a MRI rather than my Internet-fueled self diagnosis.

This gets me to an interesting, Web-based survey Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) recently conducted. We asked ourselves a simple question: with so many people turning to the Web for answers to their ailments, are healthcare organizations doing an effective job of utilizing social media to engage and educate consumers?
Here is what we found:

1. 99 percent of the respondents frequently tapped social media, including blogs, social networks and online communities, to discuss and research a wide variety of healthcare topics.

2. 96 percent of respondents said the healthcare industry is not using social media enough to communicate, share information and engage with patients.

Admittedly, the methodology and modest sample size of our survey prevents me from drawing any sweeping conclusions. Yet, I think we can all agree that the Web is the starting point for most people when it comes to their health and, as such, it’s important for the healthcare industry to be fully engaged.


Lauren Fleshler said...

As someone who has worked with healthcare companies and in healthcare education over the years, I know that many healthcare providers struggle with the practical, legal and financial issues of engaging patients and the public via the Internet. What and how do you provide medical information in a socially (and legally) responsible way.

On top of that our healthcare system isn't set up to support providers and patients engaging in these kinds of exchanging of information and/or services. It's another example of what's wrong with healthcare in general.

What social media and the Internet has been very good for is the diagnosis/self-diagnosis of rare and hard to diagnosis diseases and conditions. Patients are able to find resources, doctors, support groups and other patients and treatment options when their own healthcare providers may have failed them.

So while the Internet and social media may not be the best medicine for the hypochondriacs among us, it's been a real godsend to those who have medical mysteries to solve and need to find answers beyond the ken of their own medical professionals.

Tom G. said...

In my opinion, we as consumers are given very little in the way of diagnosing and treating ourselves. About all we have is the internet, symptom checkers, and a few diagnostic tools. Going forward, I'd like to see healthcare professionals teach us how to do minor diagnosis and equipment makers make low cost tools to do minor diagnosis. We're given more information and tools to diagnose and fix our car or home, than we are to take care of our own bodies.

I think if I had better tools and knowledge, I think I could diagnose and treat my own health conditions better. This seems to be an upcoming trend, e.g. Health 2.0. Anyhow, I’ve started a Blog – “Do It Yourself Doctoring” - documenting my own experiences in Diagnosing and Treating Myself, going to Healthcare Professionals only as needed. Feel free to comment.