Ed Note: This is the first in a series of guest posts on issues about social marketing, health communication and health information technology to expand the conversation in the b'sphere health space around the Healthy People 2020 development process. Joshua Seidman is the President of the Center for Information Therapy. In this post, he looks forward to health information democratization.
When Healthy People 2000 was dreamed up two decades ago, the World Wide Web was not much more than a figment of someone’s imagination. When Healthy People 2010 was issued 10 years later, the Web had become a powerful avenue for democratizing access to health information. How can we possibly anticipate what the Internet will mean when we try to evaluate the nation’s health in 2020?
Although no doubt a revolutionary force, information democratization does not necessarily mean that consumers can get what they want or what they need to best manage their health. Most people still want help from health care professionals.
Susannah Fox from the Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that 80% of Internet health information seekers still turned to a professional in a time of crisis—a figure much higher than any other industry Pew Internet has studied. The Internet offers great potential, and yet, many consumers still often feel lost in a maze of health information.
Harnessing the power of information democratization requires us to identify the challenges and find appropriate solutions.
• “Availability” does not necessarily equate with “access.” Just because the information I need exists somewhere doesn’t necessarily mean that I can find it. Navigation to information targeted to the appropriate moment in care is critically important. We need to translate widespread availability of information into true, ubiquitous, and timely access - something that’s feasible by linking data sources with high-quality health content.
• “Data” is not the same as “information,” which is different from “knowledge,” which is not equal to “behavior.” In order to go up the chain from data all the way to the behavior change needed for positive health outcomes, we need to connect accessible data with science—such as evidence-based medicine, decision sciences, predictive modeling, and behavior change science.
• For some people, the free access to information has led to a diagnosis of “information overdose” and a high signal-to-noise ratio. The appropriate Ix (or information therapy) means finding the right dose, frequency, and duration of information to proactively deliver, prescribe, or make available. We can do that by thinking creatively about how to target, tailor and contextualize health information for consumers’ individual learning styles, education levels, values, and preferences.
We can accomplish these three things by 2020 if we: develop clear definitions of what constitutes achievement of them; establish measurable objectives for what should be done; and align incentives to reward clinicians, systems, consumers, and others for achieving them. Those steps will allow us to create real improvement in health care delivery by translating information democratization into effective communication.