Health Engagement

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!

World Bank Photo Collection, quinn.anya, nayrb7 Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

NNT (Number Needed to Treat)

The High-Tech, High-Risk State of Maternity Care

Should We Allow Drugs in Sports?

TAGS:  Big Pharma

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11 thoughts on “Health Engagement”

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  1. I am actually pretty happy with my PCP. I feel pretty comfortable going to him as a jump off point for any medical issue. He is usually very open and honest when i need to go further in my medical evaluation than him (like to a specialist). I am one of those people that usually only goes to the doctor for my annual or if I am on my death bed though. I have probably spent more time in urgent care than in my doctors actual office.

  2. I’m happy with my primary care physician, but I went through 3 others before I found one I liked. I visited each of the 3 others once, turned around, and called my insurance company to give me a different PCP. This one spends time with me, answers all my questions, and refers to great specialists. I probably would not have been so picky with choosing my PCP if I didn’t have the internet (with so much health information). The internet has given me more control of and knowledge about my health.

  3. “Trust and individual attention, the survey suggests, were the keys to winning over consumers/patients.”

    Doctors are like auto mechanics, you’ve got to find a good one. There are docs who will run you through pointless tests just to run up the bill, and there are doctors who care about keeping you healthy. I have friends who take the approach “I don’t trust doctors.” But there are good ones out there, you just have to go find them!

  4. I occasionally have to contact doctors for medical releases, and I haven’t yet found one that was interested in discussing specific concerns re: their patients. I’ve talked to a couple of helpful nurses. And I did have one chiropractor who sent me a detailed run-down of his observations regarding my client. But for the most part, I’m lucky to get the medical release form back at all.

    I don’t have a PCP (because I don’t have health insurance). And I’m doing okay without one, although I do worry about what might happen if I contract a sudden, unexpected, and costly disease.

  5. On a related note: I think people want (whether they realize it or not) their doctor’s to demand things of them. Due to litigation doctor’s have begun taking an approach that leaves all options up to the patient. Yes, of course, when it comes down to it a patient has to make the final decision about treatment, but a doctor shouldn’t just say here are all of your options, it is up to you to decide. This leaves patients confused, frustrated, stressed and worried during a time when they should be feeling calm, relaxed and confident that their doctor is taking care of them. There was once a time when a doctor would prescribe you something and you just did it. Doctor says stay in bed for three days, you were in bed for three days. Now the doctor says it could be this or that, I would probably do this, but someone else might do that and really it is up to you to figure it all out. No wonder info-entials are on the rise. We need them to wade through all of our health related decisions.

  6. There are some good doctors out there but most are absolutely useless when it comes to chronic illness. It is impossible to get quality care during the 10 minute office visit with a waiting room full of people. It’s very difficult to find a doctor who wants to heal his patients.

    First off, a good doctor usually doesn’t take health insurance!
    He takes a detailed medical history!
    Discusses diet…the right diet!
    Finds vitamin/mineral deficiencies!
    Understands the role of fungus in health!
    Understands hormonal imbalance!
    He teaches his patients how not to need him!

    A good doctor finds the cause of illness and sets out to heal the patient. I’ve had a chronic illness for 25 years no matter what I’ve done to feel better. About a year ago, I did all the research, studying, labwork myself and presented it to my doctor and said, “this is what I have.” He agreed!!
    Health forums have been referred to as refugee camps. People are fed up with their medical care and end up getting help from others on forums. I’ve spent a lot of time as a moderator on a hormone website, we are very busy.

  7. For me, the big thing that I am focusing on is personal responsibility. I have grown a LOT in this area and am drilling it into my children ’till they roll their eyes and drag their feet and call me crazy! I want to be able to avoid or treat the things that I can so that I only need a physician’s care for emergencies. Emergency care in North America is very good; it’s the chronic stuff that they can’t seem to battle effectively.

    This quest to be more responsible has led me to read books and blogs for hours on end so that I can formulate an informed opinion on the health issues in my life. It can be tough to sort through the plethora of info about health. I have had to put some theories into practice to see how my own body reacted.

    Here’s a tip: Don’t follow the ‘cabbage soup diet’. You will lose weight rapidly, initially, but I ended up in the hospital on IV antibiotics to treat a major kidney infection because of the ‘diet’. This was my beginning point of my quest for health and personal responsibility. Lesson learned!

    Thankfully I found Dr. Mercola and Mark (and am finding more) and they’ve proven trustworthy. I’ve gotten better at sorting through the other info out there. By following the advice of these two amazing men I have lost 50 pounds and increased my strength tremendously.

    In a perfect world, I wouldn’t be mocked and doubted when I tell others my method for success, but then I work in a hospital and most staff there just don’t ‘get it’.

    So, I say, “Keep up the astounding great work, Mark. Keep spreading the word. We have to tell others how to care for themselves and encourage them to do so. We have to be zealots so that perhaps a tiny bit of what we say will ‘stick’ and spark an interest in somone else.

  8. new_me, Thank you for such a wonderful, moving comment. Congratulations on your weight loss. Keep up the fantastic work and stay in touch. Please feel free to contact me anytime, and if you have any questions you’d like addressed in blog post format send it on over.

    This is what the blog is all about – connecting with people and changing lives. I’ll keep spreading the word, but I can’t do it alone. It takes many evangelists like you to really spread the message. Thanks again for the nice words.


  9. I am looking for some idea and stumble upon your posting 🙂 decide to wish you Thanks. Eugene

  10. A good Dr. will do more listening than talking and will not avoid your questions. Thorough communication on both ends is a big key to getting down to the root of the problem and getting it fixed.

  11. Well….let me put in a really-not-shameless plug for my profession-to-be: naturopaths. (From an accredited school, not a correspondence course.)

    We listen, spend time with our patients, work with the body to heal itself. We’re trained in the same basic sciences as MD’s, but our training focuses on how to help people heal themselves through food, movement, lifestyle changes, as well as physical medicine, herbals and homeopathy as needed. (Plus various other integrative modalities: not a few of us also have double degrees in acupuncture, for instance.)

    We’re licensed in 14 states and practice in many more (where not forbidden). WHere the scope of practice allows it, we function as primary care providers. Check us out! To find one of us, go to