Neil Seeman is Senior Resident in health system innovation at Massey College in the University of Toronto, CEO of The RIWI Corporation, a ‘Big Data’ technology company, and CEO of the Health Strategy Innovation Cell, a non-profit research unit focused on online disease management tools.
At the Health Strategy Innovation Cell and The RIWI Corporation, my colleagues and I have been at work exploring the power of online interactions in healthcare. We are in the emergent era of this evolution. We are at the early stages of understanding the Web, just now learning, for example, how people with low literacy, poor English language skills, or little Web-enabled access can use the Web effectively.
Despite these challenges, they should be balanced against the promises, which are immense. We can better understand patient preferences by listening (ethically, on open space forums) to what patients need, want, and expect from their healthcare system. Often these are low-cost preferences. We can, for instance, better understand how the public reacts to certain information, such as vaccine information posted online. We can share collaboratively on best practices; on how to use social media within and across healthcare organizations. We can learn about what the government considers to be the best role of government in setting different types of health promotion policies.
For the Health Council of Canada, research led to understanding that online, patients can control when and where they participate, and the technology can overcome isolation due to distance, weather, physical disability, family responsibilities, or discomfort with meeting in groups. Often patients who encounter heavily stigmatized conditions, such as HIV/AIDS or psychiatric conditions, are more active online – participating with caregivers and other sufferers – than they are in live interactions.
Whatever the promise of online interactions for self-management supports, this Health Council report underscores the importance of linking the clinical live interface with the online information tools.
Have you ever used a social network to manage your chronic condition? Would you? Would you recommend online interactions for a family member? What are the opportunities – and barriers?