Health care revolves around information. Historically, the centers of gravity were priests and shamans (now referred to as 'indigenous healers'). Over the past century MDs and medical researchers have been the culturally sanctioned repositories and dispensers of such knowledge. A more recent evolution of the health care information space has been the more frequent appearance of the everyday person (aka consumer or patient) as a key actor. The emergence of the everyday health information specialist is powered by the internet - both as a compilation of information previously received and shared only among the health elites and by its capacity to quickly and relatively easily deliver information more-or-less tailored to an individual's search query [whether and how people can develop effective search queries is another matter altogether.]
The competition to get into the health information space is enormous. Every health encounter includes the search for, or exchange of, health information (how do I stay healthy, is this a symptom of a problem, who should I see about it, how do I diagnose it - explain it to my patient, what are the treatment options, who will pay for it?). Over the years, various types of health and medical information sites have been created to 'put' information from various sources into one place. However, the capabilities of newer search engines with more powerful and personalized capabilities casts into question whether these clearinghouse strategies will have any relevance (attract users) even 2-3 years from now unless they develop and deliver a value to users that goes beyond answering 'information please?'
The 'old school' of web-based health information collection and dissemination has plenty of competition on the near horizon. A story today in the New York Times describes Microsoft's continuing interest in the health information space through its recent acquisition of a health information search engine.
The Medstory purchase, said Peter Neupert, vice president for health strategy at Microsoft, was a first step in a broader company strategy to assemble technologies that would “improve the consumer experience in health care.”
“Clearly,” Mr. Neupert said, “search is a critical part of that better end-to-end experience for consumers.”
Designing consumer experiences around the search process has to begin with the premise that we are in a problem-solving scenario that occurs multiple times in the course of changing health behaviors or screening, diagnosing, treating, recovering, providing care and living with medical diseases and conditions. How do we deliver a search experience that helps people solve problems, not just understand them? That's a fundamental challenge for all health information providers. As new players come into the health space, expect to see some disruptions in how health information and health care are thought about and approached when the consumer experience is the center of attention and not the interests and convenience of the providers and infrastructure.