ONLINE CONSUMERS: Forecast Examines Health Consumers’ Experiences
Over the next several years, the Internet is "likely" to improve health care services and the quality of health information available to consumers, according to the second report in a California HealthCare Foundation-commissioned series of five-year forecasts titled Future of the Internet in Health Care. The analytical report, "Health e-People: The Online Consumer Experience," was prepared by the Institute for the Future. According to Institute Director and principal forecast author Mary Cain, between 2003 and 2005, consumers can expect to see several Internet developments:
- new links between patients and care providers and other online health-related services;
- a "proliferation of health care information brokers;"
- increased patient monitoring through Internet-enabled sensors and home diagnostics; and
- disease management monitoring and treatment compliance.
Overall, the report focuses on consumers' motivations for seeking health information and services online and then details opportunities for marketing to these consumers. The report designates consumers as "Well," "Newly Diagnosed with an Illness" and "Chronically Ill" and describes the behaviors of each consumer type (Forecast introduction, 10/24). The report also notes several opportunities for "improv[ing] health and for online health businesses." Those opportunities include:
- Content: The report suggests "significant content opportunities" might arise from targeting specific population segments, such as women, seniors, children and the chronically ill;
- Connectivity: The report suggests ways to provide "better connectivity," including linking patients and providers, utilizing "online agents" to help consumers sort through online information to "find the best deals" and expanding wireless Internet services for health care delivery;
- Community: In addition to already existing online communities for specific diseases, the report suggests that various online communities can be organized "to provide sites for minority populations to exchange information on ethnic variations in health status and behaviors";
- Commerce: The report notes that the most promising online health commerce opportunities lie in online pharmacies, transforming online pharmacies into online disease managers and health insurance and financing outlets;
- Care: While changes in how care is delivered will be the "most significant impacts on ehealth for consumers," they also will take longest to develop, the report notes. According to the report, opportunities lie in disease management and monitoring, support for treatment compliance, electronic consults and house calls, psychological/psycho-social services, Internet delivered diagnostics, online clinical trials and personal medical records.