"Healthcare is becoming more human—led by empowered patients and fueled by
passionate innovators working in every corner of the world to transform health."
—Rohit Bhargava and Fard Johnmar, authors of ePatient 2015—15 Surprising Trends Changing Health Care
As health educators, we look to understand patients. To understand their challenges and frustrations and find ways to help them empower themselves to fulfill their healthcare needs. Identifying core patient insights—the educational needs, the tensions, and the truths of patients living with a disease—is a critical component of our HealthEd process. These core insights inform the development of the solutions and services we offer. Over the years, HealthEd's key sources of insight have evolved. We’ve found extremely valuable new sources that hold true, raw, and uncensored insights. And these insights come from patients themselves. Specifically e-patients.
What makes a patient an e-patient?
An e-patient is more than just a "googler" (we all do that). An e-patient is a patient or a caregiver who has a voice, an opinion, a question, or a solution and shares it with others via the Web. E-patients may even interact with their healthcare team via the Web. With ever-changing technologies at their fingertips, the growing community of e-patients is becoming even savvier. Some e-patients are pioneers in patient engagement.
Where are e-patients?
E-patients are everywhere online: on social networks such as Facebook, microblogs such as Twitter, personal blog sites, and disease-specific sites, as well as in broad communities that encompass patients of all kinds, like epatients.net, patientslikeme.com, and inspire.com. Even pioneer “e-Patient Dave” deBronkart has his own personal Web site—epatientdave.com—where he touts other e-patient sites and communities. Within these sites, forums, blogs, and communities, e-patients are asking important questions, sharing their latest learnings, making their opinions known, soliciting feedback and support, and helping and connecting with others just like them.
How e-patients have shaped our work
I think back to 6+ years ago, when I started working at HealthEd, and I recall how we gathered insights. We used patient interviews, clinical literature, and client research. Within the past 3 years, we’ve added social media mining to the mix. We use special platforms to scan online sources of insight and capture raw, personally offered expressions from the patients we want to learn more about. User comments—and the online patient community’s reactions to comments—can reveal priorities, perspectives, and learnings different from those we anticipated.
For example, we've sought insights on patients with Alzheimer's disease. We found comments from caregivers about having stopped a patient's treatment because the patient was aggressive or complained of fatigue, was delusional, or had difficulty talking. Our analysis of online comments from caregivers uncovered an educational need: patients and caregivers were not distinguishing between symptoms of the condition and side effects of the treatment.
With access to e-patients, our resulting marketing solutions are more Web focused and digitally oriented to reach the large number of patients seeking information and support online. We also use broad patient communities to help bring awareness of new treatments and offerings.
Learn more about e-patients
SurroundHealth is hosting a webinar titled The Intersection of E-patients and Providers—Where’s the Sweet Spot? The webinar, to be held on Wednesday, March 19, from 1 to 2 PM eastern time, focuses on the paradigm shift from the days of the healthcare provider being the sole gatekeeper of health information to the rise of the e-patient. Three speakers will discuss their personal experiences with this shift and will share resources and tools for engaging with e-patients.
Click here to register for this free webinar.
References and resources
Collins SE, Lewis DM. Social media made easy: guiding patients to credible online health information and engagement resources. Clin Diabetes.2013;31(3):137-141.
Bhargava R, Johnmar F. ePatient 2015—15 Surprising Trends Changing Health Care. IdeaPress Publishing; 2013.
Erika Heiges, MPH, CHES
Director, Health Education