Saturday, October 3, 2009

Bringing the Doctor Into the Home via the Internet

Have you ever asked your grandparents what they use the Internet for most? Would you be surprised if it was for their health?

I recently read a journal article from Health Communication, written by Wendy Macias and Sally McMillan from the advertising and public relations schools at the University of Georgia and the University of Tennessee. The article was titled, "The Return of the House Call: The Role of Internet-based Interactivity in Bringing Health Information Home to Older Adults." It provided insight on how older Americans use the Internet for health communication, and how reliable they found it.

The study found that 72% of older online women seek health information, while 51% of men do; and of those people 1/3 of them take the information they find to their physician. In a sense, they are beginning their health care at home. They can enter symptoms and find certain treatments for smaller problems, and go to their doctors if they think it might be more serious.

Though the article focused on older adults, online health communication is a service that can provide value to a wide range of demographics; the college freshman who is away from home for the first time and thinks he might have mono or the single mom who just lost her and health insurance but wants to ensure her children are healthy - this service can be useful to just about anyone.

Online health communication makes life easier for the those who seek health information online, and for their physicians. People don't have to wait to make an appointment every time they think something is wrong with their health, so it is more timely for them. Meanwhile, doctors do not have patients calling them and making appointments for every little problem that sometimes turns out to be nothing.

Interestingly enough though, the study found that older Americans consider easily accessible health information not to be reliable or of high quality. So if it is easy to access, they trust it less. This may be an opportunity for health information forums to becoming more credible; maybe they can even charge for a subscription based health Web site, that people will trust more because it's not free.

If not, they can offer free memberships, but require people to sign up and be members to access the health information. This provides them more credibility, and they can offer advertisements to pharmacies and other health services as a way to cash in.

Online health communication provides people with a more hands-on approach to their own health. In a way, it brings the doctor into the home. It is more cost-effective and less time-consuming for the average user. It can be quite a useful tool, even if it's just confirming that someone should make an appointment with their physician. That's my PR thought for the day.

Photo provided by Google images.

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