Did You Ever Notice? Observations About E-Health
After working in the high-tech, cut-throat world of e-healthcare for all of 4 months, I’ve come to make a few observations about the industry which I believe are… interesting?
Repurposing of content
Look closely at the actual content contained in any of the larger e-healthcare sites on the Web today, such as Intelihealth, onhealth, Discovery Health, Mediconsult, or WebMD. Notice a striking similarity? You should, because many of these sites are simply repurposing (e.g., copying with permission) U.S. federal government content on their sites, or licensing extensive content from the actual content providers. I suppose the NIH is happy they get so much free publicity off of this “repurposing,” but it means that what you’re getting on most of these commercial sites, you could get off of the Federal government. The “value-add” that the commercial sites bring you is, apparently, different (not necessarily better) formatting, and lots and lots of advertising.
Look at their news feeds (if they have one). Notice the same old familiar names in them…? Reuters? AP (unless you’re one major e-healthcare site which apparently still can’t seem to get a simple AP feed!)? Times New York Syndicate? Are the stories fresh or are they sometimes a day or two old? Tell you what. You want fresh, updated news on health topics? Go to a news site, it’s that simple. CNN, The New York Times, ABCNews, MSNBC, and the LA Times all have excellent updated-daily health news. Why rely on incomplete feeds or outdated stories to get your news fix?
So XYZ company is sponsoring a part of the content on a Web site. What does that mean? Most of the time, you simply do not know. Most Web sites don’t disclose what exactly a sponsorship (or “in association with”) means. Does it mean that the sales side has no influence over editorial content, as it does in newspapers and (most) magazines? You would assume so, but you can’t be sure because most sites simply don’t disclose this information.
And does “in association with” mean something different than a sponsorship? If so, what? If an organization decides to partner with one e-healthcare Web site over another, why was that done? Quality of information provided? Or… Money?
When, earlier this year, there were some rumblings of unethical behavior on one of the big e-health sites, guess what the response was? The industry suddenly closed ranks, became pals with one another, and said, “Hey, wait a second, we can do a better job… We’ll show you exactly how.” It’s amazing that when hundreds of millions of dollars of sponsorships and advertising are suddenly on the line what a priority ethics can suddenly become. Well, that and a little prodding by the press.
Can the e-healthcare industry really do any better than the industry as a whole (e.g., through trust-e?). Well, if trust-e is any sign (Industry: 5, Consumers: 0), probably not. Consumers don’t want yet another industry initiative which does little to protect them from Big Business. They also don’t want Big Government interfering in their lives in this manner. What consumers do want is simple assurances that information being provided is untainted by money, and that full disclosure is given about what is done with the information they give to the site about themselves.
One of the reasons an online health record will never catch on (from the consumer’s perspective, anyway), is that they don’t trust for-profit companies with that kind of information, unless they absolutely have to. There have simply been too many abuses of our personal information (try sitting through dinner without a telemarketing phone call, for instance) to trust yet another company with any more. Until they can prove otherwise.