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Stop telling patients not to Google – one man’s quest for joined-up healthcare

Technologies such as Google, health trackers and social media will be contributing factors in the future of joined-up healthcare, says one digital healthcare advocate

Technology enablement for patients will be essential for healthcare to scale as the population grows, according to Dave deBronkart.

Doctors should not try to prevent patients from Googling symptoms and conditions, as it could help them contribute towards their own care.

“Googling is a sign of patient engagement,” deBronkart said at an InterSystems event on joined-up healthcare. “The only reason someone would Google a symptom is if they want to know more.”

The advocate for better patient engagement worldwide, who goes by the name e-patient Dave, believes the future of healthcare is an environment where technology can enable an open dialogue between patient and doctor, helping the patient to facilitate a greater level of personal care.

“People perform better when they’re informed better,” said deBronkart. “And it’s really easy to get an appointment with Google.”

Patients can be used as a resource if they are allowed access to information that will help them with their own care, according to deBronkart.

“It’s not an insult if a less trained person has seen a document you haven’t,” he said. “It simply alters what a patients and their family can bring to the table.”

There’s also a wealth of data collected by healthcare applications and wearables doctors are missing out on, which could contribute to diagnosis and care in the future, he added.

By introducing patients to online services, where they can interact with other patients or doctors, individuals are then often better equipped to ask relevant questions.

These are all concepts health minister Jeremy Hunt agreed with when he announced Martha Lane Fox would be putting together a proposal on how to increase the uptake of digital innovation across the NHS to take to the NHS National Information Board.

In his bid for a paperless NHS, Hunt argued that allowing patients access to records and encouraging them to correct any incorrect data – as well as have transparent data about available care – would not only increase trust in the NHS, but help to move towards a model of empowered patients.

Hunt said a digital approach to healthcare would help to promote a future where patients are empowered to better support their own care – something that will be important as funds continue to decrease, despite a growing population.

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A double-edged sword, my doctor-friend tells me. Patients will have to think before they Google.

Patients who use Google and look for answers on social media are smarter than ever. They're active participants in their own healthcare and more deeply involved in its outcome.

OTOH, patients without medical training have no ability to parse the various bits of information they pick up online. They're often dead certain about their condition and its proscribed treatment. And dead wrong on both counts.

Worse, there are absolutely no filters (unless you head to sites like the Mayo Clinic) nor any restriction about saying anything about anything. Think the recent downfalls of Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil, both "respected" by the hoi polloi, both roundly discredited by the medical community.
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