Are Patient Communities an Effective Way to Deliver Care?
That was the question debated at the 2012 Connected Health Symposium on October 25. Two physicians, Dr. Andrew Watson, Surgeon and Medical Director for the Center for Connected Health and Dr. Jeffrey Benabio, Physician Director of Innovation with Kaiser Permanente faced off on this topic. Alexandra Drane, Founder of Eliza Corporation, moderated the event.
Dr Watson presented the argument in favor of patient communities. Noting the Institute of Medicine’s figures that $750 to $900 billion are wasted by traditional healthcare in the US, Watson feels that the face-to-face system of care needs to evolve. With so many US patients already online, online communities are a vehicle to reach people over distance and time and the medical community has an obligation to help organize this, he said.
Dr. Benabio began with a quote from another physician “Patients running online communities are like animals running the zoo.” Although he felt this comment both shocking and insulting, he felt that it expressed the depth of his worry. He also voiced concern about who sponsors online communities, especially pharmaceutical companies.
After these preliminary comments each debater worked to refute the other’s points. Dr. Watson asked Dr. Benabio for the research proving that patient communities cause harm. He also refuted Benabio’s assertion that all communities are sponsored. Dr. Watson believes that patients are waiting for physicians to engage.
Dr. Benabio continued providing examples he found on the Internet to disprove the appropriateness of patient sharing. For example, he stated that on one site a patient stated that he had a flu vaccine, followed by a seizure. The patient said he never gets a flu vaccine because of this experience. Several people “liked” the comment. Dr. Benabio believed this statement would stop people from getting the flu vaccine.
Perhaps there was a flaw in the question that was asked. Are patient online communities really about providing care? Or are they doing something else. The debate illustrates the division among physicians and other healthcare providers concerning patient communities. However, in the end, patients are moving forward, reaching out to each other to exchange information, support and experience. Ignoring online communities, standing back and watching, claiming that time spent online is wasted: these are unproductive attitudes. Getting involved with online communities will not only inform patients, it will also inform healthcare providers. Communications is key and online patient communities are not going away.
After taking the survey please share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you.