The Spirit and Promise of Health 2.0: Empowering the Person, not the Patient

KeithHealth 2.0 is about redefining the role of consumers in our health life. We are experiencing a sea change in consumer attitude, a growing understanding that we must be our own best advocate for personal and family health. We no longer live in a one-source world where we can rely solely upon a physician to inform our decisions about health.

Men and women are flocking to the Internet in increasing numbers looking for health information. We want access to multiple points of view on conditions, treatments, exercise and nutrition to make better decisions about our health.  The vision of someone armed with the right information-with the power to make personal health decisions-is a compelling one.   But this vision cannot be achieved without addressing a central flaw in the current system - our focus on patients, rather than people. Online and offline, we are not fully acknowledged as multi-dimensional people who desire and pursue an active role in our health lives.

Deloitte’s recently released its 2008 Survey of Health Care Consumers.  The survey provides useful information on the behaviors, attitudes, and unmet needs of adult consumers.   The report illustrates that a large segment of the US population attitudes and behaviors reflect a bias toward taking charge of one’s own health.    Deloitte identifies three customer segments (Sick and Savvy, Online & Onboard, and Out and About) totaling 41% of adult health consumers that have medium to high engagement with the health care system and are inclined to take charge of their health.   A fourth segment (Casual and Cautious) totaling 28% are inclined to rely more on themselves than doctors.   In fact, just 28% of health care consumers (Content and Compliant) are inclined to simply accept what doctors recommend.

Webster’s defines a patient as an “individual awaiting or under medical care and treatment;” “the recipient of any of various personal services,” and “one that is acted upon.”    To me, none of these does justice to the ethos of the online health consumer today. Consumers are actively seeking and stitching together fragmented pieces of data and trying to assemble them into a framework that relates to their personal context and preferences.   We do so because we want to take action and make decisions about health that relate to our personal experience.

We cannot make the transition successfully to the “empowered health consumer” if the products and services we build to serve consumers treat them as patients with a condition and not individuals with complex needs who advocate for their own health.

I recently met a 38-year-old woman who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and told me that she doesn’t want to be defined by her condition.   She is a mother of two trying to figure out how to talk to her kids about breast cancer, how tamoxifen will feel, how to integrate her preference for natural medicine, where to find a wig if her hair falls out.    But she also loves yoga, is concerned about the impact of a mastectomy on her sex life, and is a person of faith who is highly involved in her local church.   She does not want to be defined by her condition - she wants to tailor treatment and solutions to her life, her personal needs and her preferences.   She’s frustrated by her attempts to connect to information, resources and people that can help her move forward that relate to her personal experience.

We have a tremendous opportunity to serve this person and others like her with current and future technologies.    We need to build products and services that acknowledge that we are not just the sum of our conditions, but instead are active, multi-dimensional participants in our health lives and decisions.    That is the spirit and promise of Health 2.0.

Keith Schorsch is the Founder and CEO of Trusera (, a free, web-based network where individuals connect through firsthand health experiences to take action.

One Response to The Spirit and Promise of Health 2.0: Empowering the Person, not the Patient

  1. Taylor Walsh says:

    Keith, I could not agree more about the urgent need for health care professionals to work with the whole person who comes in for diagnosis, therapy and treatment, and to bury forever any definition of a patient as being "acted upon."
    I would propose a word of caution, however, when it comes to developing Web 2.0+ technologies to address this impersonal quality that infuriates and disappoints so many. All the physician rating apps and global EMR systems in the world won't change the way physicians view their patients. They have to come to this themselves.
    As it happens, this is starting to happen in concert with the evolution of another powerful transformative force in health care: the movement of once alternative health therapies into conventional care settings. We have plenty of anecdotal stories describing the curative effects of acupuncture, meditation, herbal and other therapies (and Oprah is sure keen on them). What is less known is how deeply implanted alternative care and holistic approaches to healing have moved into research, medical education, nursing and clinical settings.
    I can tell you that very few people are aware that since the early 1990's the NIH has invested more than $1 billion in study of complimentary and alternative therapies, which has resulted in levels of credibility for some treatments that were repudiated five years ago (and some still are).
    More importantly: an underlying assumption of these practices is that the whole person is to be considered in diagnosis and therapy, including his or her belief, spiritual and personal support systems. This approach is just starting to be felt and applied at the edges of the care system. But the key is that this trend reflects the choices that American consumers have made over the last 30 years. That is millions of people, all of them now searching the Internet for health information and solutions.
    The social platforms on the drawing board for Health 2.0 should amplify this changing relationship between patients and providers, which will, I think, help accelerate its evolution. And that, in turn, may adjust the crazy financial incentives that contort things in the first place.
    One might even argue that if you're looking for "user generated health care," the history of alternative health is a fair precedent.

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