Starting in the mid 90s a new paradigm of medicine was born ― first as a grassroots movement and then rapidly evolving into a phenomenon of great interest to public health professionals who started early to study its potential impact on the healthcare system. This happened even while this new world of connected and informed health consumers was constantly denigrated by almost all physicians and physician organizations. This new paradigm was a direct child of the concurrent growth of public access to the internet and of the development of medical knowledge systems available freely to all (e.g., PubMed, OMIM, and PDQ Statements). Suddenly, everybody could gain easy and free access to information impossible to find until then, unless you had direct and constant access to the best medical libraries. This fact, associated with the availability of online peer communities profoundly transformed the level of understanding of millions of patients and/or their caregivers about the medical condition that concerned them.

Before the advent of the public internet, rational ignorance in medicine was absolutely normal. Then, in a cyber-instant everything changed. The cost of gaining significant understanding about almost any medical condition dropped to zero. At the same time it became clear to many that we just couldn’t and shouldn’t wait any longer for any centrally engineered improvement of the healthcare system.

Read the full column, “Participatory Medicine: an End to Rational Ignorance in Medicine.”

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