Times Looks at Online Health Sites at Crossroads
The "very face of health" online is about to change in a way that will "define [the] online health experience for years to come," the Los Angeles Times reports. Citing an article in the November-December issue of Health Affairs, the Times reports that a transition will likely occur from "general information portals" to sites that link customers to physicians who can provide them with specific information. In addition, some analysts say the current "general information" sites that can help "customers understand a disease, evaluate treatment and help select providers" will in the future be ranked and monitored by other medical sites maintained by medical societies or even the government. While some current sites offer "quick, one- to five-star ratings," for medical sites, the Internet is missing "ongoing, in-depth reviews" aimed at consumers. Mary Cain, a health care researcher at the Institute for the Future, said she thinks people would be willing to pay for such a service.
Other costs associated with online health information are also expected to change. While customers currently have access to a large amount of online health information for free, analysts says patients may be willing to pay to interact with physicians through the Internet. According to the Times, Web sites belonging to "big players" such as large insurers, pharmaceutical companies and medical institutions may "consolidate their power" online and develop sites to compete with general information sites while offering other features, such as appointment scheduling and filling prescriptions. Such sites will need to "earn public trust," however, as they may be seen as having "conflicts of interest" by communicating medical information to customers about products and services offered by their sponsors.
Doctors are also expected to become more involved in the online health movement. Analysts say customers in the future may research diseases or illnesses through sites maintained by hospitals or insurers and verify the information they collect with "some kind of Consumer Reports service." Then patients could pose "several well-informed" questions to their own doctors, who could give them specific answers. Dr. Edward Fotsch, chief executive of the health care consortium Medem Inc., said, "[E]ventually I see patients emailing their doctors questions ... [a]nd maybe they'd get three or four paragraphs back from their doctor. Surveys have shown that consumers would pay for this, and I think this should be a huge wake-up call for doctors" (Carey, Los Angeles Times, 12/11).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.