The Impact on Relations in Healthcare

A common example of the new quality in relations between patient and physician is that of a patient suffering from specific symptoms or diseases presenting at a physician's office with many print-outs from Websites offering health-related content. For many health professionals this situation is "awkward" as he or she is immediately confronted with the information load absorbed by the patient over the course of days or even weeks. A health consumer who is aware of his or her health status and medical problem is the ideal option for the most successful care strategies developed nowadays. On the other hand, physicians should be aware that in the contacts with their patients they should play the role of partner and navigator in this information overload. The important advantages of the e-health environment supporting the self-managed role of the health consumer encompass easy access, empowerment of the patient/consumer, availability of feedback channels as well as considerable elasticity. The importance of the feedback channels was underlined by some authors[1].

A growing number of people believe the Internet is the most feasible source of health-related information; they appreciate its better access and volume of resources. However, some negligence exists in relation to the reliability issues linked to the health-related information available on the Internet. E-health may reshape modern public health strategies as information technology offers new more effective approaches to prevention. This feature goes along with trends for emphasis of consumer-driven healthcare and enables the implementation of patient-centred care models.

The perception of potential advantages of e-health solutions is diversified across the healthcare scene. Health professionals tend to put more attention on the risks resulting from access to unreliable health-related information by patients. However, around-the-clock access to specific information, especially if the website offers personification mechanisms, is highly appreciated by the patients and their families. This results from the fact that healthcare systems face substantial problems when confronted with the growing challenge of offering high-quality care in a cost-effective mode to modern societies, especially taking into account such phenomena like increased life span and percentage of people with chronic diseases in the population. The limited time that can be devoted by the physician to individual patients makes Internet health-related resources even more attractive.

The use of Internet-based health-related resources and tools yields new kinds of social relations (e.g. patient support groups) and on the other hand, enables anonymity for those who suffer from embarrassing medical conditions. Furthermore, the patient may be decidedly more active in the e-health environment than in traditional healthcare settings. This results in a shift from his or her passive role in relation to the physician to one of partnership.

Nowadays, self-management has become a well-evidenced target of national and international strategies for management of specific medical conditions (e.g. Global Initiative for Asthma GINA[9], Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Diseases GOLD [10]). This has resulted in the eruption of e-health solutions in the area of chronic care, which offer the provision of information adjusted to patient needs, feedback communication with health professionals at monitoring centres, prompt response from health providers in case of unfavourable trends in patients' health status and opportunity to participate in support groups with other patients and their families. Even if some risk may be related to access to unreliable health-related contents on the Internet, the role of e-health solutions in patient education cannot be overestimated.

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