I’m a “baby boomer”, so I did not grow up with a cell phone attached to my thumbs. I was fortunate enough to have access to rudimentary computers in elementary school and instructed in programming languages like COBOL and FORTRAN when I was in high school. I even won first place in a science competition for programming a computer to play Monopoly with me. As a society, we have made tremendous advances in computer science and related technology. One of the crowning achievements is the advent of the internet. And as with all advances, we have witnessed great change. One striking change is how the internet, social networking , and advanced technology has affected the field of healthcare.
Take a moment to think about this. Centuries ago, people worldwide relied on their religious leaders for all spiritual instruction and guidance. Of course, there are plenty of tales of those leaders abusing their influence over the masses. People did not yet have access to Bibles or religious material of their own. But that all changed in a huge way with the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. For the first time in history, common people had access to religious texts. Gospel was no longer knowledge closely held by the few élite. People were empowered to question, to study, to interpret on their own. Now, think of how this situation parallels what we are experiencing today in the healthcare industry.
Social media has proven that there are great benefits to the collective consciousness of groups of people. For the first time in history, connecting with others that have the same diagnosis as you is as simple and quick as logging in to the web. Research, information, and even some (although not all yet) scholarly articles are available for anyone with internet access to view. Dr. Eric Topol…..Director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute…..has stated that in some cases, patients now trust their online peer group MORE than their own doctor when it comes to accurate and cutting edge medical issues. It seems that the era of doctors as gods is over. But that isn’t a bad thing. As with the Gutenberg press and the revolution it created in religion and knowledge, so too the internet and our revolution in healthcare will go. Religions still exist. Religious leaders are still sought for guidance. Doctors and healthcare professionals still exist. We still need them for guidance and healing. What we now have is more power…..consumer driven power.
There will absolutely be bumps along the way of this revolution. Some healthcare professionals will suffer from social smack downs at the hands of their patients. Some patients will run to their doctor armed with their ominous internet diagnosis and information provided to them by the big pharma company ad campaigns as to the “new pill” that will cure this condition…..after ten minutes of online research. Even so, I see this revolution as a very positive development. Take for example the Institute of Medicine’s report that published and compared shopping for healthcare with various other consumer driven experiences…..this report points out problems, but also urges all of us to pay attention. It challenges us to be empowered in finding our own solutions. Here is a bit of the report…..
“If banking worked like health care, ATM transactions would take days. If home building were like health care, carpenters, electricians and plumbers would work from different blueprints and hardly talk to each other. If shopping were like health care, prices would not be posted and could vary widely within the same store, depending on who was paying. If airline travel were like health care, individual pilots would be free to design their own preflight safety checks – or not perform one at all.”
Online access to our personal genomic sequence, complete with recommendations about what medicines to avoid. Ultrasound, EKG, and blood glucose levels straight from our smartphones. Databases that rank and rate hospitals, doctors, other treating professionals based on real data and not anecdotal accounts. Access to the leading experts worldwide in varying specific areas of medicine. All this…..and much more…..is at hand for us as consumers.
Knowledge is power. Let’s all shop smarter.