E-patients: The changing face of healthcare

In honor of its 100th Anniversary, Swedish Medical Center of Seattle ran a two-day symposium on health care in the age of reform. I really wish I had been able to attend this in person (if only it didn’t take 6 hours and more than $500 to get from Philadelphia to Seattle, not even including hotel), but technology and my work schedule fortunately allowed me to watch parts of it online. I especially enjoyed one of the preliminary events covered health care in the age of social media – a topic very dear to my heart (as you can probably tell from this blog!).

There were two featured speakers at this preliminary event – Seattle Pediatrician Wendy Sue Swanson (author of the Seattle Mama Doc blog) and Dave deBronkart (better known in the twitter-verse as “epatientdave“). Dr. Swanson’s keynote speech was certainly outstanding in its own right. But deBronkart’s speech was particularly noteworthy because he discussed a concept for which he is one of the leading champions – the “e-patient.” And that concept is becoming an increasing factor in healthcare, one which patients, providers, pharmaceutical companies and insurers alike would be well-advised to heed.

In January 2007, deBronkart was faced with Stage IV cancer. He was given about 24 weeks to live. But he beat the odds, and defeated the disease by that September. Since then, he has advocated for patients to have more access to health information, and for patients to use this information.

The graphic in this post (credit Kru Research) gives a very specific definition of an e-patient, but the bottom line is that e-patients are smarter health care consumers who are able and willing to participate more in their health care. Both through reading on their own and conversing with others through social media tools, patients are entering the doctor’s office armed with more knowledge about their condition(s) than ever before.

The resulting practice, commonly called “participatory medicine,” is having a major impact on health care. Patients who know more about health issues and treatment options are able to ask better questions in the doctor’s office. Rather than blindly follow “doctor’s orders,” patients are increasingly managing their health in partnership with their doctors. This trend is also apparent with pharmaceutical manufacturers and even with insurers.

deBronkart’s story is a very moving and inspirational one, and can be read in more detail in his book Laugh, Sing and Eat Like a Pig – How an Empowered Patient Beat Stage IV Cancer (and what healthcare can learn from it).  Click here to order it through Amazon.com.

About Joshua Brett
I am a native of Chicago, but have lived on the East Coast for almost 20 years. After starting my career as a news reporter, I moved into healthcare marketing, first with a small hospital, then with a small pharmaceutical development company and now with a chain of businesses that are working to improve access to the health care system. In May 2011, I completed my Masters Degree in Communication Management at Temple University, and I enjoy helping businesses, particularly healthcare ones, identify, tell and leverage their stories to achieve their business goals. My related interests are in messaging and framing in politics and in the use of social media platforms (including blogs similar to this one) by the healthcare industry to engage patients directly, drive them to healthcare providers and make them more educated consumers when they do so. Unlike my previous, disorganized, scattershot attempt at blogging, I hope to make this attempt more focused. We'll see what happens.

4 Responses to E-patients: The changing face of healthcare

  1. Thanks so much for the kind words, Joshua.

    The “e” is taking on a life of its own, which is terrific – as I said in my speech, things have changed a lot since Doc Tom coined his term in the 1990s. Let the memes begin!

    • Joshua Brett says:

      My pleasure. It was a great speech and a topic that the industry needs to pay attention to. The heavily-regulated nature of the healthcare and pharmaceutical/biotech industries has made them more reluctant to embrace social media and the internet than other fields. I previously worked for a hospital that, even in late 2009, blocked all social media sites on its network, even for visitors to the hospital. Fortunately, these industries appear to be loosening up, albeit slowly.

  2. Sally James says:

    Hi to both of you. I was at the conference and heard Dave’s wonderful speech. But did either of you notice that they doctors (mostly) who made up the panel after did not really talk about patient empowerment? It was subtle, but they mostly talked about – for example – feeling an ethical need to be “out there” where people are picking up health information. The between-the-lines message – bad info that did not come from us reputable sources.

    But a large part of Dave’s message was that patients – and not traditional sources – gave him powerful medical information and advice that helped him find the right treatment in time to save his own life.


  3. Anna Gueldenhaupt says:

    Thanks for such an insightful post, I love the idea of “patricipatory medicine,”, but I don’t know how far it’s gotten yet in the UK. But who knows, with the changes that are being promised by the NHS reform, which aim to give the patient more power, this might also become a practice over here.

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