It’s no secret that the internet has given patients more access to information that empowers them to take control of their own health. Patient engagement is growing steadily due to informed health care consumers creating strong networks of online communities that are redefining physicians’ roles as caregivers.
In the past, most patients simply waited for their doctor to diagnose an illness and suggest a treatment. Today, with the creation of online patient communities, for many patients this is no longer the case. By participating in these communities, patients are finding that they can easily obtain helpful information and share their own experiences to help others as well. This means that it is no longer necessary to depend solely on medical professionals. Rather than adopt a passive attitude toward their own health care, patients are participating more actively.
The benefits of online patient communities are huge: some provide a space for consumers to review medications and treatments, and others allow patients to ask doctors questions. Online communities, like MDJunction, Inspire and Healing Well, not only offer ways to share information; they also foster a network of support for people experiencing the same illnesses. Communities for patients with rare diseases, such as Rare Connect, are also particularly popular.Many believe that these communities will transform the relationship between patients and physicians. After all, educated and engaged patients are more likely to follow care plans and boast better treatment outcomes.
Some people in the medical community question online patient communities, considering that not all of the information presented by patients there is accurate. The main worry is that people will share inaccurate information, perhaps underestimating the seriousness of an illness or treatment, and others will take this information as fact.
Regardless, patient communities are changing the way that patients and doctors decide on treatments and use medical resources. Physicians must incorporate the knowledge that empowered patients are acquiring and reassess their approach to diagnosis and monitoring. While it can be a challenge to keep up with advances in medical technology, doctors who embrace this change will find that their relationship with patients will improve dramatically.