This blog is being written as I sit in the auditorium of the MaRS Center attending the "Medicine 2.0 Congress" in Toronto. Should there be any doubt, the future of medicine is empowered, self-directed healthcare with the Internet and websites like HealthCentral.com playing a key role.
Speaker after speaker at the conference is testifying to the need for and the power of web-based health information sources in helping consumers navigate the ever more complex and confusing world of health care. Consider these growing problems we all face as healthcare consumers.
The old paradigm for health care entrusted everything to your primary care physician and a few specialists. You went to your family doctor and simply did as you were told. Rarely did patients participate in, question, or contradict their doctor's diagnoses and prescriptions. Part of the problem was that patients simply did not have ready access to enough information to even formulate useful questions. The other was blind faith that the traditional medical community was going to do everything possible to provide the best possible course of treatment. That is increasingly a poor assumption.
Think about it. It takes about seven years for a doctor to complete med school, internship, and residency. Add another three years to specialize in something like cardiology. That is just to learn the basics. Considering the dizzying pace of medical innovation and the complete absorption required to successfully navigate the gauntlet of medical apprenticeship, what is the likelihood a newly minted cardiologist is up on the latest in heart disease prevention and treatment?
It doesn't get any easier when the young doctor enters or starts a practice. They may be treating between 1000 and 2000 patients. He or she is often forced to adopt "one size fits all" techniques to handle this workload with little time to provide truly individualized care. Oh, and while they are treating "the masses" the latest medical journals and studies are piling up on their desks unread (take a peek in your doctor's office if you get a chance and look for the foot high stack on the corner of their desk). This is the plight of the really good, caring doctors. Now do you still think you are getting the best and latest treatments? The problem becomes even worse when you throw in the inevitable portion of the docs who are set in their ways or just plain lazy.
The moral of this story is that the "healthcare gap" created by this unavoidable situation can only be filled in by patients themselves. It is ultimately up to you to take an interest in your health if you want the best available, late-breaking, individualized healthcare. Unlike most doctors, you only have one patient to care for and need to address only those specific health issues that affect you.
Earlier, I used the phrase "empowered, self-directed healthcare." Adopting "self-directed" healthcare is nothing more than a personal decision. "Empowerment" is a trickier business. You cannot make health decisions without basic knowledge. The good news being spread at the Medicine 2.0 Congress is that web-based knowledge - just like the kind you are receiving right here at HealthCentral - is being created at an accelerated rate to fill the "healthcare gap." Imagine the level of care you will experience when you can actually collaborate with your doctor (yes, more and more the conversation is becoming two way - not the "do as your told" practice of the past).