Outsourcing Medical Expertise to the Internet

Outsourcing Medical Expertise to the Internet

In the last decade, health and medical sciences have been making rapid and significant progress that is sometimes difficult to keep track of. It can be hard for physicians to stay on top of their clinical workload, and all the paperwork that comes with it, let alone read various medical journals, evaluate the published studies and translate novel knowledge into everyday practice.

While acknowledging all the pressures of demanding and fast-paced medical environments, it might still come as a bit of a surprise that it takes an average of 17 years for research evidence to reach clinical practice.

A similar time lag has also been suggested in pharmacology — it can take up to 17 years from the time a drug is discovered to its commercialization.

The Internet is making it easier for people to follow ongoing developments and advancements in medicine via reliable and accessible online sources. These days, it is not uncommon for a patient to inquire about a treatment option the doctor might not yet be familiar with. This is another example of how “expert” roles are changing; medical providers are increasingly becoming information interpreters and are no longer the sole possessors of medical knowledge.

Health Education Made More Available

Formerly an exclusive profession, medicine is now more and more within everyone’s reach. Online courses such as those offered by Udemy and Stanford University are an accessible and achievable way to gain more knowledge about your body and health, and further yourself in many health-related domains.

What previously took painstaking and, for most, unaffordable years of studies, can now — to a limited degree — be achieved through online courses and by diligently consulting online medical sources often for little to no economic investment.   

Since there is a myriad of unverified and dubious information lurking on the Net, it is extremely important to check and evaluate the source of information.

Users surfing for health-related information are encouraged to first take an online tutorial available from the National Library of Medicine. Sixteen minutes long, this tutorial guides you through the pitfalls of online health information, so you can emerge a more competent evaluator of e-health. Determining if a website is an information provider, as opposed to a business marketing a product, can be the first clue whether the available health information is likely to be unbiased and accurate. Go the extra mile to see who is publishing the content. Shrewd marketers create nondescript micro websites that exist separately from a product’s branded website to give the perception of unbiased legitimacy.

Science for Everyday Life

The use of online courses is also prospering in areas linked to quality of life and psychological well-being. One recent example is a free online course on the topic of happiness. Developed by Dr. Rajagopal Raghunathan, the course offers evidence-based insight into the elusive phenomenon of happiness and features some prominent names in the fields of positive psychology, neuroscience and behavioral decision theory.

What used to be a theoretical and philosophical concept with little academic grounding has now become an empirically based course that offers a deeper understanding of the science of happiness to anyone willing to invest the time it takes to work through the material. 

 From Hippocrates to Epocrates

Potential patients are not the only ones learning with the help of health technology. Doctors and health care professionals are also consulting reliable online sources when making clinical decisions, as well as recognizing the abundance of opportunities mobile software applications can offer to the savvy health practitioner. 

For instance, Epocrates is a medical reference app that physicians use to check different information about drugs and diseases, including the potentially harmful interactions between prescribed drugs and evidence-based guidelines for treatment. The app also features data on alternative treatments and herbal remedies and offers secure text messaging between team members. The manufacturer is confident that Epocrates is a mobile system medical providers and hospitals can rely on, and that it can not only improve a health-care provider’s workflow, but can also make the care provided more patient-centered.

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