Health Care 2.0 Is Truly Underway

What if you could tweet your symptoms to a doctor and receive an immediate diagnosis? With the international medical community expanding their innovative use of Web 2.0, this might not be too far off.

At the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), patients are already conducting a virtual visit to the doctor’s office on their iPad or iPhone by accessing the online “HealthTrak” portal established by UPMC a few years ago to serve its 20 hospitals, 400 doctors’ offices and outpatient sites, and 1.4 million health plan members. Users can schedule appointments, renew prescriptions and view medical records and test results, and even conduct a virtual visit to the doctor’s office. Designated for patients with non-pressing, common place health problems such as back pains, rashes, sinus infections, headaches and colds, an “eVisit” entails answering a series of questions about your condition then awaiting a response from the doctor. With approximately 600 new users joining HealthTrak each week, UPMC expects to have 100,000 users by the end of the year. UPMC’s chief medical information officer G. Daniel Martich, MD, anticipates Web 2.0 playing an expansive role: “Eventually, care will evolve using a whole range of technology: chatting, texting, apps.”

There are also individuals who are proving just as inventive as mega-hospitals on the social media frontlines. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston, invented HealthMap, a website and mobile application that scours the blogosphere, news outlets and social-networking websites to track global disease outbreaks. With the ability to access tens of thousands of web pages in a single hour, HealthMap was able to detect a new pattern of respiratory illness in Mexico in 2009 before public health officials even realized it was there.

Brownstein also created Outbreaks Near Me, a smart-phone application that allows users to enter information such as if a family member falls or if there is a line-up at a local clinic in order to help researchers identify patterns and possible outbreaks.

Use of social media is not only expanding among medical professionals but patients as well. According to the National Research Corp. survey one in five Americans utilize social media (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, MySpace and FourSquare) as a source of healthcare information.

With the limits of social media being constantly pushed and pulled, its increasing role in the healthcare, pandemics and emergencies could potentially shape an entire new definition of medical interaction around the world.