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Dr. Val Talks to iHealthBeat about Consumer Driven Healthcare

I had a really great conversation with iHealthBeat reporter Kate Ackerman recently. She summarized our conversation in an online article and I’ve copied some of it here. Please check out the full article for the entire interview.
Consumer Demand Fueling Online Health Care Market
by Kate Ackerman, iHealthBeat Associate Editor

As patients increasingly turn to the Internet for health care information and online tools to manage their health, many companies, both new and old, are stepping up to meet the consumer demand.

It is still too early to tell which companies will be successful and how the Internet-savvy health care consumer will transform the patient-physician relationship, but the trend has captured the interest of many health care insiders.

Val Jones, senior medical director of Revolution Health and author of a blog called “Dr. Val and the Voice of Reason,” spoke to iHealthBeat about the online health care market, physician concerns about patients relying on the Internet and the role of medical blogs.

A recent Harris Interactive survey found that the percentage of U.S. adults who looked for health care information online increased from 72% in 2005 to 84% in 2007. Why do you think more and more consumers are turning to the Internet for health information?

I think it’s partially because more and more consumers are turning to the Internet for information, period. Online information is incredibly convenient, served up lightning fast and has revolutionized how we research everything from buying toasters to finding a doctor. Of course, health is much more serious and complicated than purchasing products, so consumers should be very wary of the source of their health information.

Do you see a generational divide in the people using Revolution Health?

We primarily appeal to everyone between the ages of 20 and 60, though women conduct more health searches than men. The only age gaps are related to the medical subjects being researched. Clearly, not too many 20-somethings are reading about menopause, and not too many 50-year-olds are reading about college stress. Otherwise, all of our community tools and groups are fair game for people of any age. We have 60-year-olds blogging and enjoying discussion groups, and 20-year-olds posting forum questions too. It’s wonderful to see the generations interacting online and learning from one another.

New York orthopedist Scott Haig in November wrote an essay in Time Magazine complaining about patients who research their symptoms, illnesses and doctors online before seeking treatment. What are the downsides to patients searching for health care information online?

I think Dr. Haig’s essay has been somewhat misinterpreted because he was focusing on a specific patient with a serious disorder. My favorite quote from Dr. Haig’s article is that “the role of the expert is to know what to ignore.” I think the major downside for patients searching for health information online is that it can be difficult to figure out what’s contextually relevant to them. Aside from that, the next major downside is that there are snake-oil salesmen out there preying on the frustrations that we all have about our broken health care system and promising “miracle cures” and fueling mistrust in doctors.

What can be done to ease concerns from physicians, like Haig, about consumers relying on the Internet for health information?

Educated patients are a pleasure to work with, but misinformed patients require lots of extra help. The hours we spend every week dispelling urban legends and Internet-fueled medical myths is really mind-boggling. Physicians are naturally protective of their patients and don’t want them to be duped or misled.

From Google to Microsoft, companies are beginning to recognize an opportunity in the online health care market. Is there enough room for all of these companies? What will make successful ventures stand out from the rest of the pack?

There’s as much room as consumer demand will fuel. However, only the largest and most innovative companies will ultimately survive long term. While we’re all waiting for the government to create standards for health information and the creation of interoperability rules, successful companies will meet the needs of today’s consumer. Small but practical tools and innovations will keep the companies solvent while we work toward the holy grail of a common health information platform for all the stakeholders.

Medical blogs seem to have taken off in recent years. Who do you think the intended audience is?

Actually, while there are an estimated 70 million blogs out there, only a few hundred doctors are blogging. That’s a huge discrepancy, and I don’t think we’re even at the beginning of the wave of medical blogging that will inevitably occur as doctors enter the Web 2.0 world. The first pioneers of the medical blogosphere are writing mostly for their peers, though patients find their blogs very engaging and read them as well. Very few medical bloggers write specifically for consumers.

What are your predictions for the online health care market in 2008 and beyond?

With decreasing access and increasing patient loads, I think we’re going to see the consumer-driven health care movement take center stage. Patients are going to need to “do it themselves” a lot of the time (meaning manage their own health information, teach themselves about disease management and make financial plans to take care of their own needs if the government cannot afford to do so).

Another trend I have my eye on is the retainer medicine movement. As primary care physicians continue to be squeezed out of existence by decreasing Medicare reimbursements, they are beginning to join an “off-the-grid” group of providers who simply do not accept insurance.

As more PCPs create retainer practices, I think IT solutions will really take off. Online tools that simplify their practices and speed up their patient communication will be welcomed and encouraged.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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3 Responses to “Dr. Val Talks to iHealthBeat about Consumer Driven Healthcare”

  1. tstitt says:

    Great post. What’s your outlook on the HHS release yesterday of the HITSP standards for electronic healthcare records/patient consent? Is it a big step forward or just the first of many steps?

  2. ValJonesMD says:

    Dear tstitt,

    Regarding the HHS release, Paul Levy said, “I don’t claim to understand all technical technical aspects of
    this, but I do know that this in an important step along the way to
    full interoperability of medical information systems in the United

    I more or less agree with Paul, though the complexity of this process must not be underestimated. It’s going to take a lot of time to navigate the information sharing landscape, and the powerful stakeholders are going to be doing a lot of wrestling in the coming years.

    While we’re waiting, I think it would be really interesting if doctors embraced current Web 2.0 principles and applied them to their daily practices. Imagine if teams of oncologists formed groups on Twitter and were able to consult one another (in real time) regarding best practices for rare cancer treatment? What if we created a health Wikipedia of patient questions and MD answers? There are so many opportunities to reform health care right now with the techie tools that hipsters are using… these are exciting times.

  3. scottfinlay says:

    Dear Dr Val

     I read with interest your interview in Ihealthbeat, in fact that lead me to your Blog. There is a market/scalable solution that does address healthcare interoperability. The .md top level domain; .md Because Medicine is your Domain

      is a secure communication platform for Healthcare ( patent pending). This is precisely the type of market solution that you alluded in your discussion.  Healthcare interoperability is available today to any healthcare organization or stake holder for what amounts to pennies a day.  Awareness of the solution is the challenge in the fragmented healthcare market.

    The .md top level domain is unique in that with each domain registration provides free of charge a secure .mdEmail® account, .mdSecureIMTM , and Secure Web mail client. The .mdEmail® integrates readily with any modern email client like Outlook, Gmail, or Blackberry so their is no switching required to begin communicating securely today. No retraining , no work flow disruption, no significant capital expenditure and no need to subordinate your brand identity to a third party provider. The practical implication of the .md infrastructure is that a .md registrant can communicate with any other .md registrant with ZERO percent chance of loss of Protected Health Information ( PHI) regardless of geographic location, without any further encryption and in full compliance with HIPAA. That is interoperability. The .mdSecureIMTM 

    creates a domain wide secure networking capability, and the secure Web mail account affords registrants the ability to access their secure Email account even when they are away from their desk. And of course .mdEmail® is can be formatted for a hand held device.  For communications with counter parts that are outside the .md domain all that is required is type “secure:” into the subject line of the outgoing email and that prompts encryption for transport to addresses from   .com, .gov or any other top level domain.

     The ability to communicate securely using .mdEmail® will allow Doctor to Doctor, Doctor to Lab and Doctor to patient communications as well as allow practices to communicate with Insurance Companies regarding claims disputes with a full fact set and patient information and put an end to the endless phone tag and missed calls that delay claim settlement. This secure solution will afford healthcare organizations the productivity gains and cost savings of the internet that other industries have long enjoyed. Best of all it can be set up in minutes and operational in hours ( the time it takes to propagate across the internet). This is a scalable solution that can speed up the administration of care today.

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