From Dr. Google to Voscuris: A Personal Journey
Updated: Feb 7
In 2004, I received a serious health diagnosis out of the blue when I attended what I thought was a fairly low-key hospital appointment. The initial communication of my diagnosis lasted no more than four minutes, after which I was dispatched to the general waiting room to await an appointment with the new specialist medical department I’d been assigned to.
When the second consultant met with me some time later, I was verbally given information about my diagnosis, the prognosis for successfully treating my condition and the surgery I’d be having the following day. Trying to process and retain this critical information whilst still in shock over the diagnosis itself was impossible – at best I retained 50% of what was communicated to me.
Over the following days I consulted with Dr Google to try and fill in the blanks. I thought I had remembered some of the test results the consultant had spoken about, and before long had successfully sent myself into a tailspin of increased anxiety, convincing myself that my prognosis was significantly worse than that advised to me by my consultant.
Statistics show that I'm far from alone in using the internet to research health information. Google reports 1 in 20 searches are for healthcare information. In Europe, Eurostat reports show that in the 28 countries of the EU, 51% of individuals aged between 16 and 74 used the internet to seek health related information in 2017. Although it’s been 14 years since my own experience, the Healthcare industry has been slow to evolve to a point where patients can digitally access an understandable version of their own health information.
The internet has significantly changed the doctor-patient dynamic, and whilst informed use of a trusted medical site to read up on a diagnosed condition can be useful for patients, practitioners remain concerned about how patients safely navigate the sheer volume of health information available in a way that is positive in relation to their health treatment plan.
Patients may not be aware of the trusted health sites to use, nor the impact that the phrasing used in search queries has on the results the search engine displays. Searches can bring up medical white papers that may be difficult for non-medically trained individuals to interpret, or, at the other end of the scale, can include content from non-reliable sources which give false information. As per my own experience, patients can become overwhelmed with extraneous and often conflicting health information.
In using internet search engines for health queries, we may also inadvertently share that personal medical data with advertisers and other third parties, putting our privacy and security at risk.
My fellow co-founders and I all had common family experiences of poor communication of health information and the impact which that has on the patient experience and journey through their treatment plan. Our primary objective was not only to give patients secure digital access to their test results, but also to present health information with curated medical content, significantly improving the comprehension of complex health information and enabling practitioners to use digital health reporting to positively activate patients in ownership of their individual treatment plan.
Will Dr Google still have a place in the future as eHealth develops? Undoubtedly so, but by proactively using technology to inform and engage patients on their health information, practitioners can encourage positive and constructive use of online healthcare information to complement a much improved existing base of patient knowledge around health conditions and test results.