Tag Archives: online health information

NYT’s Heffernan contrasts WebMD, MayoClinic.com

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

New York Times Magazine columnist Virginia Heffernan has posted a take on the quality of online health information, framed as a side-by-side review of WebMD and MayoClinic.com. Her characterization of for-profit WebMD as a “hypochondria time suck” has garnered the most attention so far, but it seems almost tame compared to her attacks on the site’s ties to big pharma and her exhortation that users actively block that particular address from their web browsers.

As an example, after praising the Mayo Clinic’s restrained approach to patients looking to self-diagnose a headache (it waits until page eight to suggest OTC painkillers), Heffernan flips to WebMD and describes the site’s approach:

… if you plug “headache” and “WebMD” into Google, the Web opens to the glamorous, photo-dominated “Migraines and Headaches Health Center,” a sound-and-light show that seems itself like a headache trigger. There’s the requisite picture of a tastefully made-up young woman holding her head in exquisite agony. The headache “news,” flush right on the page, comes with more artful photos of lovely people in pain and includes scare headlines like “Headaches: When Is It an Emergency?” The first page contains no hard facts — you have to click and thereby drive up the site’s lucrative click-throughs — but instead quickly transforms visitors from Web users with headaches to hard-core migraineurs and drug consumers.

For the record, WebMD pulls in almost three times as many monthly page views as its nonprofit rival.

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FDA to regulate health information technology?

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

Fred Schulte and Emma Schwartz, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund duo who have made it their business to stay in front of all stories related to the federal push for the adoption of health information technology, now look at the possibility of federal regulation of health IT.

Schulte and Schwartz write that “In the past two years, the agency has received reports of six patient deaths and several dozen injuries linked to malfunctions in the systems,” and officials say those voluntary reports represent just the tip of the iceberg. In case you’re interested, here are the transcripts from the relevant government hearing.

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Photo by brianjmatis via Flickr.

… digital medical systems are not risk-free. Over the past two years, the FDA’s voluntary notification system logged a total of 260 reports of “malfunctions with the potential for patient harm,” including 44 injuries and the six deaths. Among other things the systems have mixed up patients, put test results in the wrong person’s file and lost vital medical information.

Schulte and Scwartz summarize the three possible regulatory approaches outlined by officials:

  • Option 1: FDA requires HIT makers to register, submit safety reports and correct problems.
  • Option 2: FDA requires HIT makers to report safety concerns and sets minimum quality guidelines.
  • Option 3: FDA makes HIT “subject to the broader regulatory actions that new medical products must face before they ever reach the market.”

Many manufacturers argue that such regulation could be counterproductive.

The manufacturers of the systems generally have opposed regulation by the FDA, arguing in part that imposing strict controls would slow down the government’s campaign to spur widespread adoption of the technology.

Regulation will not necessarily create a “safer” electronic medical record “and might actually limit innovation and responsiveness when it is needed most,” Carl Dvorak, executive vice president of Epic Systems Corporation, a Wisconsin-based company that builds the systems mainly for hospitals and large medical practices, said in his prepared testimony for Thursday’s hearing. The hearing is being held by an advisory group created by the stimulus law.

Government Health IT also is following the issue and points to some problems the Veterans Health Administration has run into and how it dealt with the lapses.

Patients must sort, evaluate online health advice

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

On O’Reilly Radar, Brian Ahier reviews various efforts to help patients sort through the reams of health information online and to come up with something useful and credible.

Ahier includes an in-depth look at The Decision Tree, a new book by Thomas Goetz. Goetz walks patients through a data-driven approach to health decisions, focusing on the three pillars of early action, data reliance and openness.

“One of the themes of the book is that by knowing and better understanding our genetic makeup, we can improve the medical decision making process.” Ahier’s article includes a decision-tree widget that asks the consumer a series of questions and offers some information.

Ahier also squeezes in a reference to Susannah Fox’s Pew Internet commentary on search engines and health information. According to Fox, “two-thirds of consumer health inquiries start at a general search engine” and that number is growing steadily. Given their importance in the health information market, Fox says, search engines have focused on ways to deliver the most reliable and relevant information to consumers.

Among other things, Fox addresses Google’s effort to “guide consumers to safe, trusted health websites,” including this insight from Roni Zeiger of Google Health on just how this is done:

For this health search feature we decided to offer users one source each from a governmental health agency, a medical institution, and a commercial site. We’ll study how users like these choices and continue to iterate. None of these sites is paying any money to Google to be included in the feature. Google is 100% committed to ranking websites objectively to provide the most relevant information to users. Websites cannot pay for higher search rank.

Study examines who gets health info online

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

A new Pew Internet report examines the role of Internet usage and social networking in the search for health-care information (72-page PDF). The report builds a profile of those who search for health information online and evaluates the type and content of the sources they’re using.

Among the highlights:

  • 61 percent of adults look online for health information, less than those who use a health professional or family member, but more than those who use books or insurance providers.
  • 52 percent of online health inquiries are on behalf of a third party, rather than the searchers themselves.
    While a small majority of patients use user-created health information, very few of them create any of their own.
  • Social networking sites have not yet become primary hubs for the exchange of health information.
  • 60 percent of e-patients said their most recent search had an impact on their health behavior or that of others, and they said a rising majority of those impacts were positive.
  • Demand for exercise and fitness information is growing faster than that for other categories, but specific diseases and treatments still draw more overall interest.
  • A significant majority of e-patients used wireless, high-speed connections.
  • Younger, wealthier and more educated folks were more likely to look online for health information.

Read the full report.