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 (www.trusera.com), a free, web-based network where individuals connect through firsthand health experiences to take action.

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