Thursday 23 September 2010

Topic 1.4 - Health What My Doctor Didn't Tell Me

Gunther Eysenbach. (2008, August 25). Medicine 2.0: Social Networking, Collaboration, Participation, Apomediation, and Openness. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 10(3).

This week we were asked to select a particular health topic that interested us and find out more about that topic using the Internet.  I chose to investigate a form of skin cancer called Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), which my father was recently diagnosed with.  I started by typing the name into Google and the first result that came up was on Wikipedia, which provided a high-level outline of the condition, followed by a variety of sites based in the United States and Australia.  Even though a medical condition is often going to be a global one, I tend to prefer to use the "Pages from Australia" option and then select government-provided or professional association sites such as:

Cancer Council Australia

Department of Health and Ageing
Australasian College of Dermatologists

The main reason I prefer these sites (, or is that I trust that the Australian government and professional bodies will provide accurate information.  Eysenback describes three ways that users can identify trustworthy and credible information and services - using intermediaries, which are basically trusted web portals containing only information vetted by experts, disintermediation, which is where a user bypasses "middlemen" and directly accesses information themselves, and apomediaries, which is more like guidance and filters that help direct a user to high quality information and services.  I suppose in this instance Google is my apomediary and the government and professional association sites are my intermediaries.
During my research I discovered that SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer, less common than Basal cell carcinoma but more dangerous, although less dangerous than melanoma.  I also discovered that the "official" sites I'd chosen were overall more informative and less graphic than Wikipedia, which had a couple of horrendous looking photos.  The other thing the research did was to send me off looking for skin spots on myself, which I probably wouldn't have otherwise done today!

I think the Medicine 2.0 that Eysenbach describes is an interesting idea and I'm sure there would be a cross-section of society that would embrace it and be happy to "take responsibility for their own health".  But then I think of people like my parents and grandparents who don't like the idea of any of their personal information being online in the first place, and who probably wouldn't have the time or inclination to try to get to it anyway, and my currently "invincible" 20 year old cousin who is at that age where health is something you just don't think about, and many of those in society who would probably benefit the most from it but have the least amount of opportunity to access it.  So I think it's probably quite a while off yet.



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