As often as we critique the current health care model  and many of its practices, you may have noticed that we also recommend readers discuss our lifestyle recommendations with their doctors. More than some stock disclaimer, we say it with a respectful sense of earnestness and with a healthy dose of cautious optimism (about the “patient/physician” relationship, that is).
We hear it ad nauseum: we live in an information age. Unlike any other generation before, we have immediate access to almost any health information we want, including advice, descriptions, photos, diagrams, personal accounts, and any variety of opinions on whatever condition or concern might be on our minds that day. We can download the latest studies, read up on the latest treatments, learn about alternative and preventative measures, get the low down on whatever wonder drug is making its way through the experimental pipeline. And, yes, we can get lost in a sea of misinformation, bogus commercial or personal claims that, at best, distract and, at worst, derail our path to health.
Our access, to be sure, goes far beyond the electronic realm. Particularly for those of us who live in larger towns and cities, we may have a plethora of complementary, integrated and alternative health care providers within an easy drive’s distance. (As well as the fortunate ability to shop around among these and conventional care providers…) Increasingly, most of us can hear speakers, attend seminars, and even participate in forums on health care issues that weren’t public events (or even public knowledge) a few decades ago.
The culture “at large” opens the door for consumers (a.k.a. patients) to be proactive contributors rather than passive subjects in health care. (And we know some players unfortunately exploit it for selfish and shady purposes [e.g. Big Pharma].) But even as there seems to be a general cultural support for a full patient-physician collaboration model, the conventional (and, hence, insurance eligible) health care system and many of its professionals have yet to sign on, let alone embrace, this cooperative spirit. The New York Times Wellness Blog recently offered up a video montage  of interviews in which people shared whether they had faith in medical professionals or not. The responses, though not entirely unanimous, illuminated a “simmering distrust” of doctors and (more commonly) the medical establishment as a whole. Interviewees questioned how everything from pharmaceutical marketing ploys, institutional cost-cutting, and insurance policies “influenced the advice” offered by physicians.
In keeping with this disconnect, an interesting survey analysis  was published last week that caught our eye. The Edelman Health Engagement Barometer, a survey of adults of all age groups in five countries, including the U.S., investigated people’s thoughts and priorities surrounding health care “engagement,” specifically three areas: “emerging topics,” “emerging influentials,” and “emerging channels” of communication within and surrounding health care.
People, the survey found, are looking for more “personal” engagement with an emphasis on the “specific” and “transparent” health care information. What’s more? They’re looking through an expanded menu of “channels” for that information and assistance. Although participants overwhelmingly cited their doctors as the most “credible” sources, many went on to say that they routinely explored other resources to “validate” their doctors’ advice (88%). Trust and individual attention, the survey suggests, were the keys to winning over consumers/patients, whether the communication “channel” was a family doctor, a nonprofit organization, or an Internet site.
People seem to be looking for genuine relationships, preventative- and holistically-minded resources, constructive communities for their health care direction. Enter the role of “Info-entials,” according to the Edelman survey. Info-entials, who comprised about a quarter of the responders, are an especially proactive, involved, and vocal group of consumers. Mavens, of a sort. Though info-entials are “more trusting of companies and organizations involved in health” than general responders (69% compared to 58%), they are the most resourceful, you could say. Only 30% believe that their primary health communication channel/source was their doctor. Cast a wide (but strategically selective) net for information, they seem to say, and you’re likely to get a fuller, more useful perspective. As a group, they collectively raise expectations for health care services, and many of them become valued and vocal resources themselves to their communities (personal, institutional or virtual).
In short, people are reaching for and offering themselves up to provide genuine, helpful relationships for health care advice and support. The conventional physician isn’t necessarily the central player, let alone the sole authority, anymore.
We think this trend will likely come as little surprise to our readers, many of whom likely fit the info-ential profile themselves. But we’re interested in your take on the “branching out” of health care and maintenance advice in this country. What kind of resources do you turn to, and why do these appeal to you? What health related communities or organizations do you access or even help lead? What goals do you bring to that participation? In a perfect world, what other resources/professionals do you wish you had access to in your geographical communities? And how do you view conventional physicians’ role in your picture of genuine health care and support?
You could say that MDA comes out of this info-ential strain, and all of us here (following Mark’s example) make health a personal as well as professional commitment. To boot, we all have side associations in other communities or activities supporting health related causes in one way or another. You certainly hear from time to time about Mark’s news segments , book plans, etc. The Edelman study puts numbers and labels on choices we’ve made for some time, and it’s made us think more broadly about our commitments. We’d love to hear more about what thoughts the survey inspires for you. Thanks for reading!