Call Me Patient, Not Consumer

Diabetes Living Today is happy to have our friend Manny Hernandes, co-founder of TuDiabetes.  Manny has written an “exclusive guest post for our reader’s: 

Call Me Patient, Not Consumer

(or why trust is key for Health 2.0 to continue to make progress)Last year, I had the honor to present TuDiabetes at Health2.0 2008 in San Francisco (http://tudiabetes.com/video/tudiabetes-at-health-20-2008). The conference dealt with empowering patients through support, tools and information to help them better manage their health.You would imagine that technologies and platforms for patient empowerment would have patients at the center. And they do to a great degree, except for the fact that patients were routinely referred to as consumers, not as patients, throughout the conference. Most of the people I pointed this out to didn’t notice it. Some didn’t think it was an issue.So, is it a big deal that patients are called consumers? It is if you THINK of them as consumers first and patients second. That puts a bigger emphasis on how much profit the patient can make a company, which can lead to less-than-optimal decisions on behalf of the patient later on.There is nothing wrong with profits resulting from offering products or services to patients to help them improve their health. But this is a case where the order of the factors affects the final result. If this sounds to you like an extreme view, consider your own experience when dealing with insurance companies (http://tudiabetes.com/forum/topics/health-insurance-social).What does this patient and consumer talk have to do with diabetes? As one of the most common chronic diseases, I want to see diabetes turn into an example of the direction Health 2.0 will take, with patient health improvement as the most important goal.

Support

Healthier lives result from connections with other patients: people you not only can relate to but people that you trust. Clay Shirky, author of the book, “Here Comes Everybody” puts it in very clear terms: “… whenever people decide to trust one another, information will flow.”This is why one of the fastest growing areas in Health 2.0 has to do with patient communities. Networks like TuDiabetes and DiabetesDaily (structured spaces where patients get support from others they trust) and slightly more organic networks, like Twitter , where patients share what they do with their diabetes management in 140 characters or less are very good examples of this trend. You can join the growing number of Twitter users with diabetes at: http://tudiabetes.com/group/twitterbeticsIn 2009, networks and platforms that keep on improving the channels for patients to support each other will continue to grow and positively impact the lives and health of many more.

Tools

In the course of 2008 there was a lot of talk in Health 2.0 circles about electronic Personal Health Records. Microsoft took a stab at them with HealthVault. Google tried to tackle them through Google Health . A lot remains to be done, but with the emphasis placed by the new administration on health care and PHRs specifically, I would not be surprised if we see important progress in this front in 2009.If the element of trust is important in the case of support networks, it becomes critical in the case of tools like these. Before people feel comfortable letting their health information reside online, important progress needs to be made to make everyone comfortable with this idea. This is an area where treating the patient as a patient and not a consumer is fundamental as well.

Information

Google, WebMD, HealthLine, RightHealth, OrganizedWisdom, HealthLibrarian. There are tons of resources: from the generic search engines to the specific sites that focus on health. This makes life for patients searching for information about their symptoms or disease harder than necessary.Sure it’s easy to find information, but is it the answer to your specific question? Is it reliable? Is it raw information or has it been edited? Who gets to edit it and why? So many questions come up that patients commonly resort to support communities to post their questions when they feel overwhelmed or they simply cannot trust the information they have found.These kinds of online queries cannot substitute asking a medical professional. But between appointments, resources that can be trusted to answer important questions need to be available. In 2009, I foresee support networks stepping up to the plate to start filling this need through content vetted by medical professionals. Along with this, the concept of virtual visits (also called e-visits to the doctor) will continue to pick up steam throughout the year and into 2010.

Patients First

There is no doubt: the health space has changed and it is not going back. If anything it’s going to keep changing. I hope the changes will be for the better, but considering how much more empowered patients are becoming, I feel this will be the case.Now, through our blogs, communities and the diabetes OC at large, we need to work hard to make the promise of Health 2.0 available to everyone. Until then, to all providers: please don’t call me consumer. Call me patient.