The online migration continues: health care update

Call it a portrait of America in digital transition.  For an example of American life removed from Silicon Valley, we might do well to consider the ways we interact with the health care sector.

For all of its use of technology and research, the medical field has lagged behind the online world. It has been slow to digitize analog documents, shies away from user customization, and makes a virtue of anti-transparency. Also, like the automotive sector, health care is pretty close to the heart of mainstream American life.

Pew Internet and American Life Project logoWhy does this matter?  If we want to see how ordinary folks, the nondigerati, actually use technology, observing how folks use technology in a medical setting could be very useful.  The Pew Internet & American Life Project released their latest survey this month, and the results, while non-shocking, reveal much about non-Luddite, non-hacker life.

First, while many people use the internet to learn more about their health (see below), they usually get offline to communicate with medical people.  The “vast majority of this care and conversation took place offline”.  We can imagine various reasons: HIPAA, time pressures, policy and technological hurdles.

Second, the majority of internet users hit the Web for medical questions: “72% of internet users say they looked online for health information of one kind or another within the past year.”  And a sizable chunk did this not for themselves,but for others: “Another 39% say they looked for information related to someone else’s health or medical situation.”

Another chunk, about one-third of online people, hit the internet to diagnose what they think is wrong with themselves or someone they know.

Thirty-five percent of U.S. adults (“online diagnosers”) say that at one time or another they have gone online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have.

Anecdotally, I know this drives many medical practitioners crazy.

Third, paywalls block information access for some:

“Twenty-six percent of internet users who look online for health information say they have been asked to pay for access to something they wanted to see online. Of those who have been asked to pay, just 2% say they did so. Fully 83% of those who hit a pay wall say they tried to find the same information somewhere else. Thirteen percent of those who hit a pay wall say they just gave up.”

Fourth, there’s a social element to online health seeking, but not necessarily using social media, at least for a minority of users:

“26% say they read or watched someone else’s experience about health or medical issues in the last 12 months. 16% of internet users say they went online in the last year to find others who might share the same health concerns.”

But only “1% say they started at a social network site like Facebook.”

Fifth, health insurance didn’t make a difference to people’s information-seeking.

“There is no statistically significant difference between those who have health insurance and those who do not when it comes to using the internet to figure out an illness.”

What to make of this?  It seems that Americans are migrating online, but in stages and increments.  Some are not online at all, but nevertheless consume medical care.  Others are netizens, but do not make much use of cyberspace to understand their health.  Meanwhile a chunk of the populace heads online for a variety of medical purposes… except for communicating with health care professionals.

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One Response to The online migration continues: health care update

  1. linda burns says:

    I was just part of a team that went into a Medical Center to help their staff learn to use Epic – a new patient records system. When all is done, all records and everything the medical center does will be online. But the providers (doctors) hate it and are refusing to use it. Yes, there were some who had used it at other hospitals and realized that this is the way the medical records are going to be assessed, but too many are trying to fight it. Some had smart phones, but I did not see them use technology much, just calls and text.

    One supposed top doctor told a fellow that some research was not worth reading, yet this happens to be something that I know quite a bit about since it contributed to my fathers death. Right there I wondered how much new information these doctors are learning and how they are getting it – online or though traditional closed print journals.

    The staff that was training us was creating pdf’s for us to read online though a VPN (not good for tablets and smart phone), and then having 4-8 hours of classroom instruction where we did not use the computers as much as we should of to learn this new software ourselves. Employees also had this type of classroom training, and it was very difficult for them to stay focused (doctors are just not used to staying away from their patients for that long). The staff – office people and nurses did a much better job, but they were helping each other at the medical center. It was not because of the training. I just had an interview with another medical center and they seem to be going to do the same thing kind of training – pdf’s and classroom. I think this is because these universities cannot get out of the old thought-patterns of traditional education — not even with training their own staff.

    The people in charge of this, many are not educators but IT people. In my last interview I was asked what version of MS Office I was proficient at. I said all… and she was not amused. She was serious. This was the first time in 25 years of working with software that I was asked what version I knew. I know them all…. I grew up with them. I then said that this was not going to work out for me and hung up. I stopped the interview, because I knew I would not be happy there. I need a job and I have been looking for 2 years, but this is not the first time where I saw the training to be so bad that I just could not be a part of it. I have listened to you, Howard , and all the connectionism people and I know, education and training can be better than this.

    Like

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