What Is An E-Patient?

This post is written by Erica Moss, who is the community manager for the Masters in Nursing online program at Georgetown University, offering one of the nation’s leading nurse practitioner programs. Outside of work, she’s a dog lover who enjoys photography and meeting new people.

The Internet is changing almost every aspect of our lives. It impacts us at every level: how we communicate, how we learn, how we search for work. It even impacts how we get sick, stay healthy and learn more about our health. E-patients are the next wave in Internet users: People who use the Internet to gather information on medical conditions, healthy living, and even to get information about coping with and treating ailments. E-patients surf the web to learn more about their own health, or the health of a friend or family member.

Being an E-Patient

The Internet is a powerful tool, and e-patients say the wealth and accessibility of online medical information has a large impact on their health care. E-patients are very active in their own medical care, using the knowledge they acquire online to take charge of their health. They are more aware of their conditions, cognizant of their symptoms and informed enough to help their doctors monitor their progress. While there may exist a risk of overly hasty self-diagnosis, knowing more about medical conditions makes a person more attuned to their body and promotes vigilance. E-patients are more likely to try alternative remedies to medication, such as vitamins or herbal supplements, and can learn more about exercises and techniques to cope with various conditions.

An e-patient is an empowered patient, and knowing more about one’s own health is an important step to combating any illness or even just maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The patient/doctor relationship has been changed through this growing trend, as patients have more of a say in what information is provided and what courses of action are taken. They are more engaged, better able to communicate with their doctors and better prepared to make difficult decisions. Sometimes this knowledge can increase tension between patients, doctors and family members, as e-patients use information they have gathered to question to question their doctor’s rationale. It is always important to remember that an e-patient is not a medical expert, and this heightened health awareness should be used to work with doctors, not against them.

Nonetheless, many medical professionals regard e-patients as important contributors to the advancement of medicine and health care. Patients are now able to take their health into their own hands, and increased participation is an important part of recovery. They are willing to try new things, motivated to help themselves get better and able to collaborate with their health-care providers.

Resources for E-Patients

In response to this growing e-patient trend, many websites have begun to form online communities of e-patients. Here, people can share information, offer support and advice, and guide others toward better health awareness. TheSocietyforParticipatoryMedicine is a public charity that aims to increase the collaboration between patients and doctors, and promote active participation in one’s own health care. Via conferences and the distribution of web materials, the society works with medical professionals to help them understand the needs of e-patients and the importance of participatory medicine.

It empowers patients to become informed about their medical care and provides them with the resources to learn more. To help facilitate collaboration between doctors and e-patients, the society publishes TheJournalofParticipatoryMedicine, maintains a helpful e-Patients.netblog, and is involved with various conferencesandevents.

 PatientsLikeMe is another invaluable resource for e-patients. This online community not only offers medical advice and information, but it facilitates communication between patients by forming a social network that allows them to connect and support each other. Over 145,000 people have become e-patients through Patients Like Me. The organization is dedicated to putting patients first through a powerful support system that provides information and encourages openness.

Last year, the site’s ValueofOpenness blog featured E-Patient DavesTopInternetResources for participatory medicine. EPatientDave is an internationally renowned speaker and medical activist who, after surviving cancer, became an advocate for participatory medicine and patient enlightenment. He has been featured in numerous medical publications and has delivered one of the most watched TEDtalks of all time.