Health Care and the Internet Essay
Health Care and the Internet
Finding information about health in the Internet is as easy as typing the word health in Google. The Internet has offered easy access to information just about anything on the planet. Health has not been left behind in the information technology surge. Information regarding health, testing, prescriptions, symptoms of diseases and any other issues concerning health is available in the Internet. The Internet is a major source of information in the 21st century among people all over the world. Many people use the Internet to look for information regarding health. This is because it is much easier than making an appointment with the doctor, or queuing in the hospital (Tan, 2008). Internet use in health care and health related information is good once the right measures to make it viable are made. It is useful and should be embraced, but be made accurate for the proper use of the consumers. Health is a delicate issue which requires that people get correct information that will help them and not ruin them. This paper seeks to show the downsides and the benefits of the internet in health care and determine if the internet is a good platform for health care. Some key words used in this paper are health, health informatics, and Internet and health.
Information about health in the Internet can also be used by the clinicians. They too are now using the Internet to access policies, guidelines and evidence for professional development. However, the credibility and quality of this information and the benefits it has are still under investigation. Researchers are trying to learn how much benefit and how much harm this information can cause. Health related information in the Internet has limitations that raise a lot of debate and are related to the issue of accuracy of the information at the disposal of the consumers (Duplaga, Zieliński, & Ingram, 2004).
There are currently more than 70,000 websites that provide health related information and this number is increasing at a very high rate. The reasons for increased activity in the Internet regarding the search for health related information can be attributed to various reasons. First is convenience. People have very busy schedules and often cannot find time to set up appointments with a doctor let alone actually go and see one. Internet has therefore made it easy for patients to diagnose their symptoms that can easily be treated with over-the-counter medicine (Duplaga, Zieliński, & Ingram, 2004).
Another reason for using the Internet to learn about health issues is empowerment. This information is very helpful to people who want to know about health, means of staying healthy and measures that can be taken to avoid contracting some diseases. Knowledge of prevailing illnesses would also help a lot in learning how to deal with friends and relatives suffering from certain diseases. For example, a person who knows the signs and symptoms of a condition such as Alzheimer’s disease would be better educated to tell when a person they know develops these symptoms and therefore act accordingly. Understanding conditions and diseases that are widely spread in the society is very empowering and this is a great motivator to seek this information. Internet sources also tend to save patients from embarrassing situations in the cases when he/she is suffering from an illness that he/she feels is embarrassing to explain to a doctor, so they can research it in the Internet in privacy of their homes (Tan, 2008).
Empowerment among patients is also helpful as it makes the patient become involved more actively in the process of providing health care. This knowledge has enabled them to be more involved in the decision making concerning their health. For example, when a patient understands cancer and is sully equipped with the knowledge of cancer, the possibilities of being cured, the treatment procedures and the trauma and pain that one goes through during chemotherapy, they will be able to make knowledgeable choices on what to do. With the help of the medical practitioners, the patients can decide whether or not to go through the treatment and take heed in taking the prescribed medicines. Involvement of the patients in the decision making makes them more committed to make sure they follow whatever decision taken (Nicholson, 1999).
Despite all these beneficial aspects of the Internet, it can cause some problems. For example, the patients would eventually think that they have all the answers, and if they do not know something, they could always use the Internet. This would result in the patients not going to see the doctors and clinicians at all. This is very bad because in as much as people know some information, they still need to see a professional who has gone through training in this area of expertise. In the long term there would be loss of jobs because people would not see the value of the doctors. The medical profession as we know it would be diminished (Nicholson, 1999).
There is a high risk of misinformation in the Internet. This is because not every site is credible enough to offer medical advice. There are many sites that give wrong information about diseases and miracle cures that are not tested or even practiced. Misinformation also goes hand in hand with misdiagnosis. An individual is not in a position to evaluate themselves and find out all the symptoms. There are things that only a doctor with experience can tell after seeing the patient. Besides this, they can also draw extreme conclusions from minor symptoms. For example, a patient could interpret a small pain in the body as presence of a tumour. This can cause a lot of panic while there is no reason for alarm whatsoever. The reverse is also true whereby a person finds information that would make them belittle a symptom. For example, thinking that migraine is just normal headache yet there is a tumour in the brain (Hoyt, Yoshihashi, & Bailey, 2012).
In today’s society, the Internet proves to be very helpful as opposed to destructive. In health care, it serves patients and doctors well. Aside from providing information, the Internet has provided a platform through which doctors and patients can communicate and interact. Email communication is a practice that is now being integrated in medical practice. However, not all medical practitioners have embraced this means of communication with their patients. This might change in the near future, as the medical practitioners get to know precisely how it will benefit them and how they can save time and money using email communication (Hoyt, Yoshihashi, & Bailey, 2012).
The Internet is also being used as a tool to deliver health care. Education interventions and healthcare delivery have worked well so far and have been successful. Various specialists have used telemedicine to provide a solution for remote diagnosis. This has brought about numerous possibilities in the Internet for reaching patients and providing health care to them. Electronic records for patients have the potential to improve the efficiency of the medical services provided. Health research can also be done using the Internet. Researchers can easily communicate and reach patients and conduct their research through interviews, questionnaires and other qualitative survey methods to gather information (Shore, 2007).
The Internet has also provided a podium for people to empathise with patients who suffer from some sort of disease. There are several groups of support for people who have an opportunity to share their feelings and challenges in an environment where they are understood. They also have a chance to experience some relief of speaking out without burdening their relatives and loved ones. For example, a support group for people with cancer or who have survived the disease would help the participants in the group very much. This goes a long way in their recovery physically, mentally and emotionally. The inclusion of medical practitioners in these groups gives patients the information they need and that would help them in their recovery (Shore, 2007).
The Internet is very beneficial to the professionals in the medical field in a sense that it expands their knowledge in various areas of expertise. This is because it offers a forum where these doctors can talk to each other and share their knowledge. For example, a psychologist may have a question regarding a case and needs various opinions and points of view about it. Through channels such as blogs, doctors and specialists in this area of expertise are able to share their thoughts at no cost. This is in contrast to calling these doctors to a forum where they will be present physically, using a lot of time and money. Besides, doctors and medical practitioners are constantly needed for their services and cannot afford travelling to meet and discuss certain issue. The Internet and technology would also offer face to face forums through Skype and other teleconferencing means so that their objectives are met (Nicholson, 1999).
One challenge is lack of professionalism and wrongful use of the Internet. This is a challenge that would prevent the efficient use of the Internet in delivering healthcare services. This inappropriate use can be a result of getting addicted to the Internet and interaction through it. There is also the domino effect where addiction to interaction via the Internet seeking health care could lead to addiction to other forms of interaction such as sexual flirtation and other sites in the Internet. This in turn leads to social isolation of people and depression because of too much reliance on the Internet (Nicholson, 1999).
Another challenge of the use of Internet in the health care field is the possible violation of the doctor-patient confidentiality clause in healthcare professionalism. The Internet is far from being private. There are numerous hackers who can easily access patient’s medical records and diagnosis. Aside from this, there can always be slip-ups where private information is revealed in a tweet or a comment in the Internet. It is not possible to ensure privacy in the Internet. Many doctors agree that doctor-patient relationships should not extend online because of the risk of too much friendliness developed. In the long run, jobs and reputations could be lost in the process. This is a big challenge for the execution of the use of Internet to provide healthcare services (Tan, 2008).
The Internet is limited in diagnosing the patients. Doctors need to do complete physical examinations of the patients which includes touching. Computers cannot be in a position to do a full check-up of the patients. This is a limitation of the Internet which means that people cannot fully rely on the Internet to diagnose their illnesses and symptoms. Only physical examination by a medical practitioner could correctly explain the cause of a particular combination of symptoms and be able to tell when the situation is serious and when it is not so serious (Tan, 2008).
The society is constantly changing and making leaps of progress each day. This is especially so in terms of technology that is improved each and every day to make better and easier applications and gadgets in an effort to make life stress-free for the human race. It goes without saying that the health sector would be faced with these technological advancements as well. It is essential for the health care services to be customised technologically to reach more people using easier and less time consuming means including the Internet (Shore, 2007).
In my opinion, the Internet is useful for providing health care services and information. This is because the environment in the hospital and health related issues cannot change and leave it out. The manner in which the Internet is being used currently is not well utilised. There is a lot of erroneous information available in the Internet. There is also a notion among patients that information is all they need and they take matters of health into their own hands. Privacy is also desirable regarding the Internet. However, this is a problem that is related to the Internet in general and ways to address it are still being investigated.
The advantages of using the Internet in health care industry greatly outweigh the challenges and disadvantages. First, people have much more information about their health than ever before. This causes them to make more critical choices in relation to their health in terms of prevention and measures to stay healthy such as lifestyle and eating adjustments. Having knowledge about health and health care issues is very beneficial both to the patients and the people who will take care of these patients (Tan, 2008).
There is already an increased reliance on the internet among people all over the world. This is because it is fast and easy to use and acquire information. There is no effort required; all that is needed is an Internet enabled gadget, and being online. You then get the information you need in the comfort of your room or office or wherever you may be. Patients deserve to be well informed about health related matters and therefore the Internet is very important (Nicholson, 1999).
In my opinion, the current status of the Internet use in health care industry is good but subject to very many challenges that need to be addressed. As for the future perspectives, there need to be measures put in place that will make the Internet use in health care better and more reliable. For instance, the websites that provide health related information should be vetted and only legitimate information should be available. The information updated on these sites should come from qualified medical practitioners and a strict method should be devised to ensure only qualified people and experts provide health related information. Patients should also be made to understand that information in the Internet is only a general diagnosis that should not be treated as gospel truth but should instead provoke one to seek physical diagnosis to determine the real and accurate illness. Only then would the Internet be truly beneficial in the health care sector.