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Weekly Digital News: e-Force

A new trend is bubbling up on the internet. More and more individuals are returning home from their doctor appointments, and turning to the web for a second opinion.  Fortunately, there exist countless Web sites devoted to providing health information for these individuals… unfortunately, the information is vast, general, and terribly non-person specific.

This growing group of  “e-patients” are individuals “who are equipped, enabled, empowered and engaged in their health and health care decisions,” according to e-patients.net.  They pour over the Google search results page in hopes of finding tailored, data-driven health information in real-time.

Spectrum’s VP of Digital Strategy, Kevin Walsh, attended the Health 2.0 conference held last week in San Francisco where user-generated health care was one of the main topics of discussion.  Many of the products and services introduced at the conference had a lot to do with this new group of e-patients using the internet to find data to aid in managing personal health decisions.

Steve Lohr, of The New York Times, recently wrote about a new start-up company introduced at Health 2.0 that sets out to aid e-patients in wading through the “vast trove of generalized health information” found online.  Lohr explains:

 ”The ideal, health experts say, would be to combine personal data with health information to deliver tailored health plans for individuals. That is what Mr. Bosworth and his San Francisco- based company, Keas (pronounced KEE-ahs) Inc., mean to do.”

The Keas system is still in beta, and not an end-all-be-all of online health consumerism, it is, however, an initiative  to supplement the lull in person-specific health information found on the Web.  The system’s  goal is to help e-patients take control of their health, to “own” their medical information, so to speak.

Lohr gives a common example of a Type 2 diabetes e-patient using the system to “receive reminders, advice on diet and exercise, questions and prompts presented on the Web site or delivered by e-mail or text messages – all personalized for the person’s age, gender, weight and other health conditions.”

Keas is just one example of the new trend  in personalizing health research online and providing tailored information for e-patients.  Lee Raine, Director of The Pew Internet Project outlines  the trends in the use of digital technology for health purposes – and why the e-patient has become “a force in the medical world.”  According to  Raine’s research, 83% of the online population are networked individuals using the internet to find health information and 60% of e-patients engage with social media to review others’ opinions regarding everything from a personal medical experience to rankings of hospitals and doctors. 

With the majority of the online population using the web as a health care tool, more services like Keas are bound to pop up in the next few years.  Similarly, as Web 2.0 and social networking sites grow in popularity, it is not surprising that people want online participation in what matters most: personal health and medical decisions.

So what do e-patients mean for communication professionals and the health industry?  They are the driving force behind e-health.  E-patients are  not only a burgeoning trend to embrace, but a group to engage with and a market to provide for.

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