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In Appreciation of Provider-Sponsored Patient Education

July 23, 2013
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Patients are going to educate themselves about possible medical symptoms whether you like it or not. You would be wise embrace the trend.

Those are two sentences that should be uttered by leaders in every provider setting across America. It’s also the theme of an excellent article I found in The Wall Street Journal this week.

Online patient education is a sticky subject. We’re in the age of constant information from all kinds of digital platforms and it’s inevitable that patients will find health information online. Earlier this year, Pew Internet and Research conducted a survey and found that 72 percent of Internet users say they looked online for health information of one kind or another within the past year. In addition, 35 percent of American internet users went online to find out about a medical condition they may or may not have.  These are numbers that will inevitably rise.

Of course, there is a reason why people say “you can’t believe you read on the internet.” It’s the 2013 version of “don’t believe everything you see on TV.” It’s easy for someone to get worked up over what they see on the internet. I’m sure doctors will shake their head at the theories and pages you’ve accumulated from a Google search. Studies have shown that self-diagnosis through the internet isn’t always the greatest of ideas.

That’s why I think it’s great when providers take the initiative in this area. People are going to use the internet to research health information. It’s going to happen. You might as well guide them to a reliable resource.

The WSJ article I read talked of a couple of software programs that hospitals are using to help patients research symptoms. Isabel Healthcare, a company that I talked with at HIMSS12, launched an online-symptom checker for patients. The database, using symptoms that directly typed from patients, allows you to see the most likely diseases at the top and the least likely at the bottom. According to WSJ, George Reynolds, M.D., CIO of Omaha Children's Hospital & Medical Center, has invested in a professional version of the Isabel product.

“People are already using the Internet for health information and we are giving them a much better tool than just Google a bunch of stuff," Reynolds told WSJ.

This sentiment is shared across the country, as providers are finding appropriate ways to whet patients’ appetite for more and more health information. In June, the Mayo Clinic, who has been a leader in this area, announced it is digitizing patient education pamphlets and DVDs into electronic formats for physicians to give to their patients.

In the past, I’ve spoken to other leading organizations, such as the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and Cadence Health system in Winfield, Ill., who are buying patient education systems for their population.

“It helps to give our population approved content on treatment that we are comfortable providing verse them finding out on their own,” Bruce Haviland, CIO of UPMC Mercy, a 487-bed hospital in Pittsburgh, said to me back in September of last year. Haviland’s UPMC Mercy is using patient education for high-risk populations like chemotherapy patients.

In that regard, I recently wrote about the working being done by the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) and the Lebanon, N.H.-based academic research and clinical institution, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. The two have teamed up to create an interactive, web-based decision aid that aims to educate patients on the challenges of Crohn’s Disease.

What’s a better circumstance: a 21-year-old patient who has been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease using the internet to Google the disease and how to deal with or using the CCFA’s  digital material?  It is high time providers across the country take their cues from the Omaha Children’s, Mayos, UPMCs, Cadences, CCFAs, and Dartmouth-Hitchcocks of the world by grabbing this possible proverbial bull by the horns.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to leave comments below or respond to me on Twitter by following me at @HCI_GPerna.