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An SPM member [name redacted – wishes to remain anonymous :–)] emailed this, with the playful subject line “A New e-Patient”:

© Copyright 2011 King Features Syndicate. All Rights Reserved.

(Click the image to go to the high-res on the comic’s site; © Copyright 2011 King Features Syndicate, all rights reserved.)

Funny comic, but it’s a common misconception that “e-patient” = anyone who googles (or bings, or webmd’s, or…). Wrong. E-patients are empowered, engaged, educated etc – not mindless, and not likely to freak out at the first thing they read.

When you search for a restaurant or anything else, do you believe the first thing you read? colleague Susannah Fox pointed out last year (sorry, no link handy) that when “Doc Tom” Ferguson first spotted e-patients in the ’90s, they were conspicuous because engaged patients were almost always online, and online people were almost always empowered and engaged. Today, not so much: her data show that almost everyone is online, empowered or not, and most people routinely look for health-related information – over 60%, the last I heard.

So being online (or searching for health info) doesn’t make you an e-patient. Being smart about it, thoughtful, thinking critically, comparing notes with peers and professionals – that’s participatory medicine.

For earlier posts on these issues, see on Understanding Statistics, Research Issues, and Health News Review.



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