Health 2.0 – Just what the patient ordered?

It seems like no matter where you turn to these days, Web 2.0 is the buzzword on everyone’s minds, but what does the term really mean and how is it changing the game for health organizations?

The Internet is rapidly evolving from an environment where static pages exist for people to search and read information (a.k.a. Web 1.0) to one where users from all walks of life can create and share content online. This new reality has been termed Web 2.0 and takes the form of social media, including blogging, podcasting, social networking (e.g. MySpace, facebook, etc.), and video sharing (e.g. youtube, Google Video, etc.), among other activities. (For more articles on Web 2.0 and e-health, visit Prescient’s Articles section and our blog

According to, key principles of Web 2.0 include:

  • The user controls his/her own data
  • Architecture of participation
  • Harnessing collective intelligence

What this means for patients is the ability to go beyond just researching health facts on the web to actively sharing their experiences with each other – not only for emotional support but also to benefit from collective intelligence and gain clinical knowledge from each other. As new Web 2.0 tools come online and participation increases, there is a great potential for patients to have more control and play a larger role in the management of their own health.

Health practitioners have been somewhat more cautions of the use of social media, but they too are slowly going online to harness the collective wisdom of the community to solve challenging cases. is an example of a social networking site exclusively for doctors which enables members to come together to share their knowledge in order to “accelerating the emergence of trends and new insights on medications, devices and treatments.”

The Challenge

The use of social media can clearly have a tremendous impact in educating and empowering both patients and care providers; however, issues such as privacy and security have kept many health organizations on the sidelines. In fact, as outlined in a recent article, The Hurdles Facing Social Computing, all organizations looking to implement social media face these challenges. Health organizations are simply especially sensitive to these issues.

For good reasons, healthcare institutions are inherently risk adverse, highly value information from authoritative sources and closely guard intellectual property. These values, however, create conflicts with Web 2.0, which is built on a premise of an open flow of information with few controls on the source or intellectual property. (John Sharpe from the Cleveland Clinic has an excellent presentation with a chart outlining the opposing values of health care versus Web 2.0 titled Web 2.0: Beyond Open Source in Health Care.)

In addition, the return on investment for health organizations that adopt social media is not easily quantified, making it difficult for advocates to get the funding needed for such ventures.

The Need to Engage

It is understandably not easy for health organizations to change their communications model, and the risks and issues associated with social media are far from being resolved, but simply choosing not to participate in this revolution is not an option.

Firstly, your stakeholders, including both patients and doctors, are already using social media. This is where many of them choose to interact and it is the medium through which they get information – you need to be a part of this sphere to gain their respect and attention.

A recent report from iCrossing reported that:

  • 75% of healthcare searchers have been prompted to go online to investigate symptoms or conditions
  • 41% resorted to the Web to self-diagnose or self-treat a condition
  • 59% resort to Internet-based resources (including Web sites, search engines, online advertisements, blogs, forums, and social networks) for health- and wellness-related information (versus 55% who ask their physician)
  • 24% named Internet resources (including Web sites, search engines, online advertisements, blogs, forums, and social networks) as their most-trusted source when asked to name the top three sources they trust for information about health- and wellness-related information
  • 49% of respondents considered Internet resources (including Web sites, search engines, online advertisements, blogs, forums, and social networks) as being very or extremely important in their decision not to take a prescription medication.
  • 34% of respondents use social media resources to research health and wellness topics, with Wikipedia, and online forums and message boards as the most important tools.

Secondly, the potential benefits are great and should not be ignored. The use of social media can benefit health organizations in the long term in a number of ways, including:

  • Enhancing patient compliance with therapies
  • Providing preventative health information
  • Enhancing doctor-patient communications

Social media tools need to be a part of the healthcare community’s communications strategy as we all continue to try and improve patient care.

The Pioneers

Although social media in health is still in its infancy, there are already a number of great Web 2.0 tools available on the Internet.

Here is just a small sample of what’s available out there:


AskDrWiki, FluWiki, Clinical Informatics Wiki, WiserWiki


Kevin M.D., DiabetesMine, Running a Hospital, Clinical Cases and Images

Social Networks

Sermo, Patientslikeme, MyCancerPlace, DailyStrength

Video Sharing


Online Forums

Google Health Groups, Revolution Health Groups, HealthyCanada


Johns Hopkins Medicine Podcasts, NIH Podcasts, CDC Travelers Health Podcasts, dLife

It’s All About The Plan

Before your organization can successfully leverage Web 2.0 tools, you need to have the right plan in place. The use of social media can have some great benefits to your organization but the potential pitfalls are real and there needs to be a stepwise process to ensure a successful Web 2.0 strategy.

  • Before we learn to run, we need to walk, and in the same manner you need to first have the solid foundation of a web presence that is positive and relevant to your audience.

  • Make sure internal stakeholders are all on the same page and the key gatekeepers are on board and ready to collaborate.

  • Fully research and understand not just the tools but what your audience is looking for and what you want to achieve.

  • Make sure the right checks and balances are in place, including governance, intellectual property and privacy policies.

  • Test your tools with small groups before you fully launch.

For more information on how to create your own Web 2.0 plan, download Prescient’s Social Media for Health Organizations Checklist.