IT and healthcare: more than a marriage of convenience. Part 3

With the Internet, the centuries-old relationship between doctor and patient is changing, allowing people to take a far more aggressive role in their health circumstances. Patients are now more likely to question their physician about advice given them or to use the Internet to enhance understanding. By doing so, they are better able to manage their overall health-care circumstances, which leads, over time, to a reduction in demand on resources.

Of course, many medical professionals are alarmed by this behavioural change, and often rightly so. There is a stunning amount of fraudulent and misleading healthcare information online. Any doctor will tell you it’s sometimes very difficult to dissuade patients from believing something they have read on the Internet.

Yet, even though there is some bad medical information online, there are also a lot of useful, high-quality resources. Some feel the medical community and healthcare industry has an obligation to help patients use the Internet intelligently. And the thinking is that if there are more folks like us, taking the time to understand the issues, then patients will receive better results.

Science fiction? No. This trend is particularly advanced in the United States, where a number of health management organizations (HMOs) and health insurance companies are rolling out sophisticated sites to help patients make the Internet a part of their healthcare. United HealthCare, for example, is investing heavily to make sure its more than 4.6 million members nationwide use the Internet to access customized healthcare information relevant to their condition.

What does it all come down to? Massive change in the world of healthcare, and over time, a change in the way healthcare services are provided and delivered.

And this is what is so funny about the ongoing debate about the healthcare system in Canada. No one is talking about the opportunity that’s staring us in the face. And yet, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Quite often, with any type of new technology, the IT community realizes the power and capability of the tools at our disposal long before the rest of the populace.

Which means, when it comes to IT and healthcare, we’ve yet to see the tip of the iceberg in the nature of the IT opportunity that exists.

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