Medscape Medical News 2008. © 2008 Medscape
March 7, 2008 (Hollywood, Florida) — A multidisciplinary panel discussing online health information and the way it is transforming the clinical landscape has some advice for oncologists. Presenting during a roundtable discussion at the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) 13th Annual Conference, experts encouraged doctors to embrace the trend and not feel threatened by it.
"We know that patients only absorb about 10% of the information they are presented with during an office visit," NCCN chair Al Benson, MD, from the Robert Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, in Chicago, Illinois, told Medscape Oncology. "Patients need added resources, and they need for these to be solid."
News anchor Sam Donaldson from ABC News moderated the session. Presenting at the meeting, the veteran television reporter said the Internet is a double-edged sword. Online resources provide a wealth of information to educate the public, but also an abundance of inadequate and potentially harmful content. How should doctors and patients address this problem?
"It's hard enough for physicians to keep up to date with medical knowledge without also having to closely monitor the resources patients are using," Dr. Benson said during an interview.
"Patients are confused," Nancy Davenport-Ennis, founding executive director of the National Patient Advocate Foundation, said during the discussion. "They need simple, easy, and direct information. We have a nation that has been conditioned to look to employers and health professionals for care. Americans have been engineered to believe they are second in line in the decision-making process," she said. "We need to move this nation and help people succeed in this changing dynamic between patient and physician."
The Democratization of Healthcare
Nan Forte, a panelist representing WebMD, an online source of health information and the company that owns Medscape Oncology, said that patients used to go online for more information after seeing their doctor. "Now many people are looking for information before seeking medical care," she said. "The Internet is becoming a trusted source, and we are seeing the democratization of health information."
Panelist James Mault, MD, representing Microsoft, said the Internet provides a significant opportunity. "Doctors shouldn't feel threatened," he said. "The Internet addresses a fundamental need and can offer patients an important second opinion."
Ideally, Dr. Benson added during the discussion, the online material should provide patients with reliable information they can bring to their physicians to help frame the discussion. "Cancer is not a sound bite," he emphasized. "It's important for the population to fully grasp all of the nuances of the vast information available."
Panelist Steve Case, chief executive officer and chair of Revolution Health Group, suggested that the people researching expansive and often confusing health information are not the problem. "The problem is actually the disengaged portion of the population that is not paying attention to health until there is a crisis," he said. "People are managing their finances, their social networks, they are monitoring their fantasy football teams, but they are not focusing on their health until they are sick. The result is we have a sick-care system."
He added that although the Internet has transformed nearly all industries, this has, for the most part, not been the case for healthcare.
Dr. Mault said he agrees. In terms of technology, he suggests that medicine lags behind, stuck in the 1960s or 1970s. "Clinic notes are jotted down and filed away in cabinets somewhere. Patients don't have access to them." He said he looks forward to the day that health data, including physician notes, information from hospital plans, pharmacies, and so forth, are more widely available electronically.
"This would give caregivers all of the information they need, including details about what the other doctors in that patient's life are doing," he said. "If a patient lives in Michigan but is a snowbird in the winter and travels to Florida and that patient requires treatment, as it stands now, doctors will have no idea what meds the patient is on or have any information about medical history."
Panelist Penelope Slade Royall, from the US Department of Health and Human Services, said that technology and science are currently undergoing a complete metamorphosis. She emphasized that rapid scientific advances spurred on by the discovery of the human genome will transform the medical landscape.
"We are going to see more predictive and preventive care. The fact is that people are dying today of chronic diseases that could have been prevented."
She said that roughly 88% of Americans need help understanding the complexities of such advances. "We need to bring the people with us," she said, "and the science of communication will be a key factor moving forward."
Dr. Al Benson reports having financial ties to Amgen, Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Genentech, ImClone, Onyx Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, Roche Laboratories, and Sanofi-Aventis.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network 13th Annual Conference: Roundtable. March 6, 2008.