The force of the Internet will unleash a new healthcare economy.
Up to now, much healthcare information has been collected and available only to health professionals and insurance providers for use in making decisions about patient care. This specialized approach has minimized the role that individuals play in their own healthcare and has reduced the overall value of that care. After all, if information is power, limited information is limited power.
The Internet fosters increased connectivity among multiple sources of information, leading to increased individual knowledge about healthcare.
Change is needed, if not overdue. Most consumers can better estimate the cost of a new Honda than they can the price of medical treatment. Without true knowledge of costs and access to information to understand the choices and benefits involved in various options, the consumer cannot effectively participate in a workable approach to his or her care.
Thankfully, healthcare information is slowly evolving from a background of scientific research designed for health professionals (or selected groups of professionals) to a consumer-directed resource for accessing information, making decisions, and directly connecting with providers.
This does not suggest that people will replace professionals and self-diagnose, but rather that they will become partners in managing their health. Healthcare databases for provider collaboration, social networks based on healthcare issues, and telemedicine applications, for instance, can help create a transparency that’s been lacking in healthcare information. In effect, the Internet can build bridges between information tools used by various participants in the healthcare economy -- doctors, pharmacies, hospitals, nurses, and other practitioners -- and the populations they serve.
There is a good reason for bringing healthcare information to the consumer level: Patients who do not understand their health conditions, their treatment, and the suggested course of action, are unlikely to follow the outlined steps for care and therapies, resulting in waste of resources and declining value of the care provided. When consumers have an information infrastructure that consistently provides reliable information, it enhances the quality of care.
Current trends are pointing toward more social networks that will significantly affect the way we access care and manage our own health, resulting in a new healthcare economy serving the individual and connecting members of society. The examples include the use of networks in providing information, sharing personal accounts, sharing effective ways to cope with disease, and social support Internet sites designed for patients with cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
The reality that we are discovering is that healthcare is co-created by the individual and his or her provider. To be effective requires the individual to be literate in healthcare terms, diagnoses, choices, and expected results -- i.e., information. It further requires commitment to those choices by those individuals in order to achieve the desired results.
The Internet does not replace the existing healthcare system, but enhances the delivery of healthcare in new ways that contribute to health. The Internet can and will help to promote more knowledgeable and, hopefully, effective health care for individuals. Patients who are aware of the options they need to look into and who can see outcome data about the relative merits of various approaches will help streamline a system that is currently complex.
The addition of a consumer-driven healthcare economy offers great promise for the future.
— Deborah R. Hagar consults on operational and business solutions for organizations in multiple industries, including the Healthcare Advisory Board and the National SubAcute Care Association.