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Life in the Web: What Page Are You On? (part II)

By Laurie Gelb, April 8, 2011

In our last installment, a typically-networked physician was driven to distraction by his patients’ reliance on the Internet for personalized health advice, and an MCO director struggled to understand why her network’s disease management materials were failing to influence member behavior.

Both might benefit from a better understanding of how, when, where and why members of the lay public utilize online medical resources. These questions have seemingly been the subject of much research. However, surveys have primarily focused on scope -- “how much”—rather than the deconstruction of how and why.

To put the question another way, what does the social Web (an umbrella term for social networks/the Web/mobile media) offer that a physician’s appointment or disease management brochure doesn’t?

Unlimited time and bandwidth. The ability to filter and search, with the hope of greater personalization. Diverse opinions. Colorful, unequivocal language. Identification of and interaction with trusted resources on demand 24/7 from any Internet-connected device. Hyperlinks to explore more quickly and less linearly. Ability to go from structured resources like encyclopedias to Facebook and back again. Social bookmarking that eliminates the need to “start from scratch.” If you have two more hours, we can keep going.

To what extent has research into health Web use helped us to better utilize the physician’s medical expertise and communication skills to design better health information portals and tools? Apply the MCO director’s knowledge of demography, utilization and trends?

Not so much.

And to what extent are social Web-savvy content developers in charge of creating health advice on the Net, self-help tools or member disease management communiqués?

Not so much.

Now, going back to our Net-savvy physician – how much money has gone into e-prescribing, clinical tools, formulary references that he uses every day…as compared with the resources that a patient would use? How much connectivity is there between MedicAlert or  Microsoft HealthVault and the answers patients get to their health questions on the Net?

Not so much.

In short, content and tool developers have pretty much failed to bridge the gaps between what their masters (us) want to convey and where their so-called audiences want to be. Is it surprising that people don’t particularly want to be “herded” into a maze for which they write none of the rules, that they would rather be setting the terms of engagement?

Yes, the process of accessing information, care and reimbursement for said care is currently perceived as adversarial. And battles lines are being drawn…from the receptionist’s window and business office to your Web site and shiny new brochures. And no one else gives a flip about your communication strategy. Most agendas read, “Pay less, get more and never have to say ‘I’m sorry.’”

So now what? If you want to play to win (i.e. to improve the odds that someone receives optimal care), you need to gather and then use some intel, some real insights, not the pablum of yesteryear. We’ll discuss how to do this, next time.

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