Connected Patients

A few days ago I read an interesting article about medical search engines on The Next Web Blog:

Last February, Google launched an online tool for patients called Google Health. You can store and manage all your medical information on this site.
Several start-ups profit from this move by Google. Like San-Francisco based MEDgle, a site where you can search through 10,000 symptoms and more than 2000 diagnoses. Just click the body part that’s bothering you and start browsing away to find a solution. MEDgle founder Ash Damle explains how Google Health helps them: “Google Health is a good opportunity for us. MEDgle was designed to be able to run on top of medical health records. Google Health now provides a platform for this. They have the data, we can make it actionable and relevant to the user.”
So the self-funded start-ups basically puts an accessible layer over the Google Health data. Users select the body part and the symptom, and then specify their gender and age. After hitting the search button, a page with a short description about the symptom and external links appear. A nice touch to this page is that users can rate those external links.

It reminded me of some striking results of our recent pan-European Health Care study:

26% (fully) agrees with ‘when I feel something I first look on the Internet to see what might be the cause’

24% (fully) agrees with ‘before I go to a doctor, I first look for more information on the Internet’

50% (fully) agrees with ‘when my doctor makes a diagnosis, I often look on the Internet for extra information’

27% (fully) agrees with ‘when my doctor makes a diagnosis, I will check it based on online information’

26% (fully) agrees with ‘when I need to take medicine, I first look up more information on the Internet about this medicine’

So, the physician remains by far the most reliable source of health related information. But the patient has entered the dialogue and the Internet is the global patient knowledge bank. With the aid of ‘Doctor Google’ patients ‘play’ doctor online, preparing their diagnosis – even looking for specific treatments – and critically verifying the doctor’s diagnosis & prescriptions. Therefore, specialized sites on certain syndromes & medical portal sites acquire high trust levels.

Moreover, 1 in 2 consumers discusses the health related information they find online with others, 1 in 3 forwards it to others. The health information sourced online is also discussed with the GP. 16% makes a doctor’s appointment after their preparatory internet search, 38% discusses the information they found with their physician (18% advises others to do so) and 14% even ask for a specific medication or treatment to be prescribed to them.

Magali Geens, our Pharmaceutical Research Director, puts the phenomenon into context:

‘The internet should not necessarily be considered a threat for the patient-physician relationship. The patient clearly wants to involve the professional in their internet searches. However, it can put stress on a physician, who is suddenly challenged to explain more about certain products (that maybe are controversial, still under development, not known by the physician…) and syndromes. The internet in a way empowers modern patients to enter the dialog and not all physicians are used to this, open to this, have the time for it… However, the rapidly growing success of certain platforms such as ‘patientslikeme.com’ and ‘rateMDs.com’ cannot be neglected by the present-day medical force. They also have an educational role to play, guiding patients towards trustworthy sources, helping them to interpret things in the right way.’

(*) Source: Pan-European Health Study / InSites Consulting / © 2008 / 7 EU countries, i.e. UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Netherlands & Belgium / total sample of 2.100 respondents / representative for total country populations

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