I recently spoke at a workshop entitled Patient Online Access in the Safety Net. (Check out these related posts.)

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Marked-up internet access thermometer v4

The organizers, Ted Eytan and Veenu Aulakh, asked me to create a participatory presentation, which definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone since I had to be ready to discuss any and every aspect of the Pew Internet Project‘s data.

First, we put a poster-size version of our internet access thermometers on each table. Second, we provided multi-colored markers for the participants to annotate the thermometer, circling the populations they serve and writing in the groups not listed such as migrant workers, homeless people, or people living with chronic disease. Some people added notes about what percentage of their client base is, for example, Spanish-dominant or living in lower-income households.


I walked around the tables, listening and asking questions so that my remarks could relate directly to their feedback. The group’s comments highlighted both the limitations of the Project’s data (we can’t capture everyone if we rely on cell and landline surveys) as well as the excellence of the data (what we do know, we know well, like the fact that teens are almost universally online no matter what their household income level).

Here are two more tables’ marked-up thermometers.
Marked-up internet access thermometer v6 Marked-up internet access thermometer v1


I learned from James Kahn, MD, that many of his patients use cell phones, but can only afford temporary contracts and therefore do not have a stable number where they can receive calls or text messages from his clinic. Another participant was newly encouraged about patient online access after realizing that she could talk to her teenage clients about getting their parents online.

It would have been much easier for me to stand up and deliver a “stump speech” about internet access, covering the data points that I thought would be useful to the group. But by asking the audience what they most wanted to know, I followed in the footsteps of Diana Forsythe and other people who ask her central question, “Whose assumptions and whose point of view are inscribed in the design of this tool?” By putting aside my assumptions, I hope we created a more relevant, interesting, and useful conversation instead of a lecture. And I gained new respect for medical professionals who are willing to let patients participate in, and even drive, clinical conversations. It’s harder to listen than to talk sometimes.

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