I haven’t been to the doctor in almost 2 years. It’s not that I haven’t been sick during the past couple of years, but rather that finding a new doctor (I moved about 18 months ago) and finding the time needed for a doctor visit (including filling out insurance forms, answering medical history questions, and making the appointment) is difficult for a busy person. But in the future, social media and the web might help to make doctor visits more pain-free.
Web-based and social media tools are making it easier to get health information, find doctors, make appointments, keep records, and get support. These tools are revolutionizing the healthcare field and the way people approach the practice of medicine. If you know of any other great sites or web services that are making healthcare smarter, please share them in the comments.
Finding Health Information
One of the most obvious ways that the web and social media are making our lives healthier, is in the proliferation of health information. I can remember getting sick when I was a child and watching my mother haul out a huge thousand-plus page medical encyclopedia to try and figure out what I might have and whether I needed to be taken to a doctor (or what sort of questions to ask when we got there). Today, though, health mega-portals like WebMD, Revolution Health, and Yahoo! Health contain more information than that big book my mom used to own ever could — and it’s all searchable and available instantly.
Being able to use the web for self diagnosis is truly revolutionizing the way many of us care for ourselves, and how we approach doctor visits. Other sites, such as rVita, which registers qualified medical practitioners to provide health information, and Hakia Health, which maintains a database of vetted medical information sources, help users to make sure the information they are getting online is accurate, reliable, and medically sound. Another web site, OrganizedWisdom, is something like WikipediaWikipedia
for health, but every article is written and reviewed by qualified professionals
Locating Good Doctors
Choosing a doctor to visit every time you are ill is an important decision. Because medical care is so personal, you want to find someone you can trust and with whom you have a good rapport. Most people tend to rely on referrals from friends or colleagues when searching out a new doctor, so for those who have recently moved to a new city where they don’t know anyone, that can mean going without a doctor for a while or visiting a doctor picked out blindly from impersonal yellow page listings.
Web sites like Vitals and HealthGrades, both of which provide independent doctor ratings based on a variety of data, are making it easier to locate a good doctor by using more information than just their name in the phone book. Other sites, such as FindaDoc and RateMDs.com rely more heavily on a consumer rating model, meaning you can pick a doctor based on the feelings of your peers.
The web is even making appointment setting easier. In addition to providing a database of doctors with consumer reviews, ZocDoc also lets you book an appointment with that doctor straight from the Internet. It currently works in New York City.
Though for most serious conditions you shouldn’t rely on the web for diagnosis or care, there are a handful of web sites beginning to offer actual medical treatment from real doctors. American Well, for example, creates software to facilitate online doctor consultations via a webcam that is currently being used by military service members and their families for web-based psychological evaluations, while BreakThrough offers a similar online service for civilian consumers who want to talk to qualified therapists from home by phone, chat, video, or email. UK-based MyChoiceMD.com also offers a completely online doctor consultation service, as well.
For those more interested in self-diagnosis, DoubleCheckMD can help you determine if your symptoms are the result of sickness or a medication you’re taking, or if medications are safe to take at the same time. The virtual doctor at FreeMD, meanwhile, will help you to figure out what’s wrong and if you need to visit a doctor.
If proven to be safe and accurate, online consultation and self-diagnosis, in addition to being an agoraphobe’s dream come true, could potentially save a lot of money by reducing overhead costs associated with running a busy office.
Keeping Better Records
One way in which the web promises to severely reduce healthcare costs, is by digitizing records. Record-keeping accounts for a reportedly huge amount of the costs associated with the modern healthcare system, yet these records are kept mostly using archaic technology that is dire need of modernization. Using so-called Personal Health Record (PHR) systems that would allow consumers to access their health records over the web like a credit score and send them anywhere they authorized (to doctors, emergency care centers, pharmacists, etc.) promises to revolutionize the way we give and receive care.
Though there are certainly major privacy issues to address, PHRs such as Microsoft HealthVault, Google Health, WebMD PHR, and Revolution Health PHR mean millions of dollars in cost-savings and potentially safer transfer of records to those who need to see them (so that we can assure, for example, that a patient is never given a medication they have an allergy to).
Social media and web-based applications are also affecting the lives of doctors for the better. Practice Fusion, which recently received an investment from Salesforce.com, is something like Google Apps for doctors. The company offers a suite of free electronic health records keeping tools that doctors can use to more effectively manage and keep track of the health of their patients in a secure environment. Practice Fusion is used by about 18,000 physicians and practice managers in the US.
Another site, called PharmaSURVEYOR, allows both doctors and patients to keep detailed records of the drugs they are taking to avoid any nasty interactions, and can create “what-if” scenarios for determining the most effective and safest combination of medications for treatment. On the more social side, there is Sermo, a fast-growing social network for medical practitioners, on which doctors come together to share research, exchange observations, and support one another.
Creating and enabling support communities online is one area in which social media is perfectly suited. Online support group sites like PatientsLikeMe and DailyStrength offer online discussion groups for people going through a wide variety of medical treatments, ailments, or conditions. CarePages connects patients by encouraging them to share their stories through blogging and building support circles among friends, family, and peers.
Another support group site, MedHelp, offers a wide variety of personal health applications, such as weight, addiction, blood pressure, and cholesterol trackers. These apps plug into the site’s social networking and support forums to give patients ways to track their health and progress while they receive support from others going through the same thing.
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