Accelerating The Uptake of Healthcare Knowledge or How to Make a Jr. Mint a Wader

It seems everyone and every company is engaging in healthcare and healthcare technology. Twitter has 100s of healthcare chats each month. Microsoft, Verizon, GE, and many other companies are carving out a position in healthcare. Just consider all the healthcare blogs you visit and multiply that by 20.  And we know that greater than 60% of adults who are online seek health information. Healthcare Professionals (HCP’s) are using social media and apps to share knowledge with colleagues. This is huge and is proving productive, positive, and important for healthcare (HC). It bodes well for bending the healthcare cost curve and improving patient care because greater numbers of people want to improve THEIR healthcare. This is a movement of HC self-awareness based on adult learning theory.

So we have this sea change occurring but who are the beneficiaries? Are the changes truly driving better patient care and outcomes? How can we accelerate knowledge acquisition by consumers and patients? How can we better engage HCP to step into the knowledge business with their patients? How do we lessen the lag time from ‘I need to learn about my health’ to ‘I’ve made changes that are giving me benefits’? Finally how do we get more people involved at a more productive level? I want to examine the latter two questions today and present an idea.

First, let’s identify and characterize those who are participating in healthcare knowledge seeking by their participation.

We have the Savvy’s who are the ones we see in chats, on blogs, participating on portals, tweeting, and posting like crazy. They are highly functional in the technology and healthcare knowledge. Most are healthcare professionals or damn close. This group is most active and the most focused on healthcare. They primarily speak to each other.

Next are the Waders. Those are the ones who are increasing their involvement. They may be lurkers on chats or readers of blogs. They are the ones printing reams of papers from WebMD or Medline and joining patient groups. They are positioned to move to Savvy’s but need a boost in confidence. Remember their reference point in all of this is watching the Savvy’s. The Savvy’s set the tone and embrace who enters Savvy Land. A hug from a Savvy is worth seven Like’s on Facebook.

The next group is what I call the Jr. Mints. They are newly minted seekers of HC knowledge and information. They are driven by problems they want to solve regarding their HC or HC of a loved one. They are spending hours searching and collecting HC information and trying to figure how to use it. I would say for the Jr. Mints it’s a hit and miss cycle of finding and capturing information. Much of what they gather early on is useless or just plain wrong. And to make matters worse they may not know it. Plus they may compromise their security online.

Finally there are the Befuddled who want to engage but are lost and not sure where to begin.

Let’s assume that this is a normal distribution with the majority of participants divided between the Waders and the Jr.Mints. The single most important outcome I would like to see is moving each group to the left, a Wader becomes a Savvy a Jr. Mint becomes a Wader and the Befuddled becomes a Jr. Mint. 

Right now that is occurring slowly and painfully. I would present to you that we the Savvy’s can easily and simply change this distribution. Move more learners left on the curve and not surrender to natural selection, which is time consuming, and in some cases counterproductive. 

In my humble opinion a group of Savvy’s should create a learning curriculum designed to help consumers/patients/caregivers navigate online resources better, find information specific to the healthcare problems they want to solve as well as specific to their educational need. My vision for this curriculum would be to first help the learner identify what their needs and goals are by having them self-identify those issues. And rate how confident they are in using online resources? And finally what are the goals they want to achieve with improved online skills?

The next part would be a review of how to do a search, what words to use, what the results mean, and how to improve and customize a search specific to healthcare. There are many secrets and tricks to performing a good search and those can be taught.

Helping learners identify trusted sites and what makes a site not trustworthy is a key part of this curriculum. It is critical that learners know how to critically appraise information based on the site and what they do. Part of this learning exercise should be a brief discussion of evidence-based knowledge and how that impacts healthcare.

Support groups, how to find them and how to function within one is another learning module. Critical in this part of the curriculum is identifying which groups are valid and which ones are not. It should also be discussed here how to be a good citizen of a support community, what are the generally accepted rules of the road and how to protect your personal information. Specific discussions should be made about Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. as well as how to leave comments and post questions on blogs and discussion groups.

Finally the course should be closed with a discussion of what do with your newfound knowledge. How can what you learn be added to your daily health routine? How to have a discussion with your HCP about what you’ve learned? How to track your progress and what are the markers that make the most sense when monitoring change.

Okay this is where this type of idea ends, it is laid it out roughly, provides some insight, and it sits there like latkes on a plate at the Carnegie Deli. Perhaps we take it step further. Make it an action item. What if a group of Savvy’s from say #hcsm, Patients Like Me or other sites and chats that attract leaders in social media and medicine decided to work together to create a curriculum. This group would work and develop a curriculum focused on the majority of online learners seeking to solve healthcare problems. The goal of the curriculum should be simple, easy to teach, with valuable information, and practical tips.  

Once this curriculum is completed a very large group of from these sites should take the opportunity to email each and every community, city, community college, university library, and church to offer it for teaching. At the same time if there are any of members from these groups (#hcsm, Patients Like Me, etc.) who are local to these libraries they should offer to teach this course. Just imagine a monthly course taught at the local library “How to Use the Internet to Find Health Information’ Or something more snappy.

This is a grass roots educational process that can do so much more to drive the online trend in healthcare. And it will improve patient outcomes. Perhaps we not just use our knowledge to impress but use it to produce valuable and measurable outcomes.