A Health Digital Journey

There have been many different subtopics of online health communication discussed in the last few Health Digital Check-Ups. It’s somewhat daunting to digest it all, so before going even farther down the road with more about the specifics, we thought it may be a great time to refresh and just lay out the entire landscape.

Instead of walking through alone, though, we are going to enlist some help from one of the most iconic bands of American pop culture: Journey. Because everyone loves Journey, right?

So here’s a quick view of where we stand with the musical inspiration of Steve Perry. Let us know if we missed something.

Separate Ways

While it isn’t necessarily a catch-all for everyone who communicates about health, it’s sometimes easy to think about the space as holding three separate groups, and each has a very separate way of interacting on the online channel. The health space often feels limited to patients interacting with other patients about conditions or health status, healthcare professionals talking with their peers about news, and health companies dipping their toes in but reluctant to fully engage with the public.

I’ll Be Alright Without You

There are some pretty strong data points, most notably in Pew’s 2009 study on patients and health information, that consumers are often quenching their thirst for health knowledge at many places beyond a doctor’s office. Much of this is happening online: 60 percent of people who report looking online for health information (roughly 2/3 of American Internet users fall into this category) say that what they found on their own affected their decision about how to treat an illness or condition. It is not a complete transition, though: physicians still rank as most credible source, and as the Health Engagement Barometer showed, 88 percent of people validate the information they find online with their doctor.

Wheel in the Sky

In this metaphor, “the wheel in the sky that keeps turnin’” is the ever growing innovation of online technology. There are new communication platforms constantly appearing in the digital world, and with each new channel, it is our challenge not only to figure out how people may use them to communicate about health, but also the marketing regulations that are still yet to truly be defined. Google’s SideWiki made us rethink the idea of “ownership” of a Web site, and it had a unique impact on sites for pharmaceutical products. We don’t know where we’ll be tomorrow, but you can bet it’s going to keep health communicators on their toes.

Open Arms

If recent years of the e-patient movement are any indication, the growth of communities specifically focused on a condition or disease states is likely to continue. That means that understanding how to work with patients – and not try to talk at them – will be the key to success. We shouldn’t have anything to hide, and we need to believe what they say. After all, for these groups, it is their health; as communicators, we need to respect that.

Don’t Stop Believing

There are a few more things that need to be worked out in the realm of online health communication. There still is that divide between the different groups, making transparent engagement across parties a little bit of a challenge. However, it is absolutely plausible that this will not be this way forever. We will find a way to connect patients and the people who can help them the most with their health. Until then, just don’t stop believing.


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