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The Dangers of Health 2.0?

A brief report in Digital HealthCare and Productivity suggests that Health 2.0 also presents risks to existing healthcare providers. In other words, the very idea that social networking, widespread dissemination of medical information and other Web-based health tools can empower individuals in the healthcare system might "open up organizations to embarrassment or possibly even legal liability."

Health 2.0 transparency = bad for medicine?Well, duh. I don't mean this as a swipe at either the report's author, Neil Versel, or at the no-doubt earnest academics who offered this suggestion at a recent "Medicine 2.0" conference (primarily, it seems, Kevin Clauson of Nova Southeastern University in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.). In fact, some of the examples are pretty interesting:

Clauson noted that pharmacists in the U.S. have a "duty to warn" if patients are put in potentially unsafe situations. But it is not clear, Clauson said, if this duty extends to patient-posted content that may indicate that person is taking drugs that may interact with each other.

As more providers move to electronic health records and personal health records that patients can view, the public might be surprised to learn that clinicians have their own form of derogatory slang. Clauson said some popular descriptions he has seen in medical charts include: "CLL" ("chronic low-life"), "LOBNH" ("lights on but nobody home"), and "grave dodger" to describe a chronically ill elderly patient. What happens if patients suddenly start reading such language?


Sometimes, organizations may get hurt by poor judgment that is completely beyond their institutional control. Clauson highlighted a study published in the July issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine that found that medical students at the University of Florida were less than discrete[sic] with some of their Facebook pages. Some belonged to groups called "Physicians Looking for Trophy Wives in Training" or "PIMP: Party of Important Male Physicians." Others were pictured grabbing the breasts of classmates, visibly drunk, or wearing a lab coat that said "Kevorkian Medical Clinic."

I've been critical of some of the big overarching claims made for Health 2.0 -- that it will revolutionize the healthcare system, for instance -- largely because the question of exactly how many people will proactively make use of these tools remains very much in question. So too with the impact of such broader "empowerment" in a healthcare system that in many respects remains rigged against individuals -- particularly the chronically ill.

That said, let's be clear: This particular consequence of Health 2.0 is a feature, not a bug. If greater transparency of medical records and better-informed patients discomfits physicians, pharmacists or health-insurance bureaucrats -- so much the better. If it leads to changes in practice guidelines, medical-chart notations or delineations of legal responsibility -- well, that goes with the territory when people learn more about how the healthcare system actually works.

(Hat tip: iHealthBeat)

Image via Flickr user Tall Chris, CC 2.0

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