Vanessa Carter (#hcsmSA)
Vanessa was a creative director and entrepreneur for 18 years. She is also a Stanford University Medicine X ePatient Scholar for MRSA (Antibiotic Resistance) and Facial Differences from South Africa. She is an advisory board member for EyeforPharma and InfectionControl.Tips.
The “e” in the term ePatient has a number of associated meanings which include Enabled, Equipped, Emancipated, Empowered, Educated, Equal, Expert, Electronic and Engaged to name a few.
Before the Internet, practising medicine was relatively simple. A patient would visit a doctor, be given a diagnosis and seldom question that opinion because access to medical knowledge was limited. Today, because of the access to information we have on the web, the typical patient spends hours researching to find answers about his condition. This access to online resources has caused some disorder in medicine and South Africa has not been isolated from this revolution.
The term ePatient was first coined by Dr Tom Ferguson and part of his research was referring to how the internet was helping patients find online support. The Internet is a powerful tool and while many professionals warn that the content is misleading, the internet can also be empowering.
The Internet continues to expand rapidly as the web moves into its third version (web 3.0) and experts question the remaining life expectancy of various indexing search engines. Relative to this growth, technologies like fitness wearables and mobile applications that gather data for the patient’s electronic health record (EHR) are burgeoning too.
Health 2.0 is currently one of the related terms being used by experts to describe an extension of eHealth through using a diverse combination of smart and wearable technologies combined with web 2.0 tools like online communities, blogs and social media networks that enable the patient to become an active and participatory partner in his/her own healthcare. The future of digital health will probably take the shape of a more interactive ecosystem as Health 2.0 describes it, patients are already empowering themselves using these virtual tools, therefore it makes sense that we build innovative solutions around that as we enter Health 3.0.
In terms of web 2.0, according to a report in January 2016, the statistics in South Africa suggest that 26.8 million citizens spend almost three hours a day on social media. Many of these sites like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp offer these patients the tools to create groups and online communities.
These communities are one example of how patients are connecting to each other to share their experiences and educational resources as well as offer peer-to-peer support.
Niche social media medical sites like Patientslikeme.com provide patients with real-time community-driven data to help them make more informed decisions, even about certain medications and their side-effects. A recent article, written by KevinMD, further explains that the empowering outcomes from online communities, experienced to the strongest degree, were being better informed and having an enhanced social well-being.
Data and social sentiment gathered from these collective conversations can also be significantly more valuable to precision analytics and research for health systems development as opposed to the fragmented user data we are currently aggregating across multiple, unstructured public platforms. While virtual communities are only a modest portion of patient empowerment, they could be pivotal towards creating sustainable, patient-centred, data-driven healthcare.