E-patients, Cyberchondriacs, and Why We Should Stop Calling Names – European Perspective

September 1, 2010

On August 30, 2010, Susannah Fox posted E-patients, Cyberchondriacs, and Why We Should Stop Calling Names starting a discussion about names. I think the discussion could be summarised in two main trends.

On the one hand, e-patients name is still useful as a brand to spread the message of individuals utilising the Internet for health purposes. Therefore, using the Internet for seeking health information on injury, disease, nutrition, improving health, etc could be consider as a “proxy” to understand the diffusion of e-patients phenomenon or normalization and routinization of technological resourcefulness, mentioned by Carl May. Susannah Fox has been analysing data from USA since 2000. It looks like that the use of the Internet for health in this country has reached a “saturation” point among Internet users, however non-Internet users and minorities, mentioned by Gilles Frydman, are still far away from this saturation point. As a part of this digital divide in Health, it is different to engage young or elderly populations. For the first group, talk about e-patient does not make any sense because, in plain English, they are digital natives while for elderly population is totally different. However, digital natives will be the patients of the near future.

To tackle the situation in Europe I have collected some data from Eurostat checking Information society statistics based on the surveys on ICT usage in enterprises and households. They have gathered the following question “I have used Internet, in the last 3 months, for seeking health information on injury, disease, nutrition, improving health, etc.)”. I have developed charts of European countries and of EU 15, EU 25 and EU 27 for ‘% of individuals’ and ‘% of individuals who used Internet in the last 3 months’. All charts revealed a positive trend but Europe is still behind USA, even the penetration of broadband in Europe is bigger than in USA.

Click on the image below to enlarge the chart to full viewing size

On the other hand, we have to realise that this proxy does not tackle the complexity of this phenomenon and its relationships with other variables, including digital and non-digital aspects of individuals daily live. Therefore, e-patient name could be considered as an inhibitor of this complexity and it does not help us to go deeper in our analysis.  I guess we may have to find a balance between get bored spreading the message and get excited about deeper analysis.

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