These days, people consult technology for everything from deciding which shoes to buy (gotta love RedLaser) to figuring out the name of that elusive song playing in the background (thanks, Shazam). So itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no surprise that digital devices are also seeping into the world of healthcare: A new study analyzing data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project (which surveyed the impact of the Internet on 1,745 U.S. adults) found that,Ã‚Â while 41 percent of people (mostly women) consult reviews and rankings of doctors and health facilities, just 15 percent write in with comments or questions, and even fewer (10 percent) post reviews. "The more people contribute, the more helpful and accurate the information becomes," says study author Rosemary Thackeray, PhD, associate professor at Brigham Young University. "ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the wisdom of crowds theory that makes it a valuable tool." If only a fraction of the population weighs in, that usefulness diminishes. Of course, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s understandable why you might not want to broadcast your health issues to the worldÃ¢â‚¬”there are privacy concerns.
Online reviews are just one of several new high-tech forays into healthcare, though. Here, the advantages and drawbacks associated with the latest digital advances creeping onto the medical sceneÃ¢â‚¬”so you know what youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re getting into.
Posting Online Reviews and Comments
According to a study conducted by the healthcare market research firm Manhattan Research, 73 percent of people use online health information and tools, and 54 percent say that info has influenced their choice of providers, treatments, and services.
PROS Ã¢â‚¬Å“Contributing to the collective body of knowledge helps others make informed decisions,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Thackeray. You do-gooder, you! But it also has a positive impact on you personally: Knowing that you have a forum to share your experiences gives you a sense of empowerment. And if MDs know theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re being held publicly accountable, that might prompt them to improve their servicesÃ¢â‚¬”say, by cutting down on wait times, or not rushing through visits. Ã¢â‚¬Å“In addition, posting on an online message board can give you a sense of community with people who are going through something similar,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Thackeray. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You can discuss whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s worked for others and find comfort knowing youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not alone.Ã¢â‚¬Â
CONS Although privacy is a big issue (you obviously donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want everyone and their mother knowing you have stubborn hemorrhoids), Thackeray points out that there are plenty of anonymous forums, such as PatientsLikeMe.com, CircleOfMoms.com, and WebMD discussion groups. Another dissuading factor? It takes time to set up an account and jot down your thoughts Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ precious time that could spent watching cat videos on YouTube or doing one of our 15-Minute Workouts.
Emailing and Texting Your Doctor
Manhattan Research studies of more than 3,000 doctors found that in 2012, nearly one-third emailed with patients, and 18 percent texted them.
PROS See ya, hour-long waiting room stints and being put on hold forever. Instead, you can communicate with your doc whenever and wherever is convenient for Ã‚Âyou. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to make an appointment for something minor, like a quick question or a prescription refill,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Michael Roizen, MD, chair of the Wellness Institute and chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also a great option if you get sick during the weekend or while you or your doctor are out of town. Plus, Roizen points out that you can go back and reread an email. Unless you take excellent notes, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re likely to forget some stuff your MD said during an office visit. An added bonus: If thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s something personal you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t feel comfortable discussing face-to-face (for example, a weird down-there problem), it might be easier to bring it up via email.
CONS There could be an increased risk of misdiagnosis. While there are lots of cool tools to help your doctor figure out whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going on remotely (heart monitor, blood pressure, and blood glucose apps let you test yourself and send the results directly to your MD, for example), some info is still lost in translation if he or she canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t touch and examine you in person. Digital devices also lack nuanceÃ¢â‚¬”your doc canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t assess your body language or the tone of your voice to help him or her determine your condition. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s generally best to schedule an initial appointment in person and then use email and texting for follow-ups, says Roizen. Keep in mind that thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a greater chance of miscommunication, too. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Your doctorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s words could be misinterpreted in an email, or spellcheck can skew his meaning,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Roizen.
Skyping With Your MD
Manhattan Research also discovered that seven percent of doctors video-chatted with patients in 2010Ã¢â‚¬”a figure thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s on the rise.
PROS Just like emailing, a Skype session is way easier to fit into your scheduleÃ¢â‚¬”which means youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re less likely to put off getting the care you need. And in the past, seeing a long-distance specialist might have been out of the question. Now, you can set up a video chat with that renowned allergy expert out in Wyoming. Another thing: If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re really sick, you can meet with your MD while lounging on your couch instead of having to make a drive. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll also avoid the germ-a-palooza in the doctorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s officeÃ¢â‚¬”and you won't expose other people to any bugs you may have.
CONS Your wallet will take a hit. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Most video chat sessions are not covered by insurance, so youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll have to pay more out of pocket,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Roizen. And thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also a chance that even after Skyping, your doctor will want you to schedule a face-to-face visit (for a shot, blood work, etc.). Finally, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s impossible to make eye contact during video chats. That lack of connection can lead to a weaker doctor-patient relationship, which may result in poorer health outcomes.