IT’S TIME TO PAY ATTENTION TO A GROWING AREA OF MEDICINE loosely described as “information therapy.” It is the concept of providing consumers and patients with reliable health information without requiring face-to-face visits with physicians or other healthcare professionals.
For clinical laboratories and anatomic pathologists, this is an important development. After all, information is the stock in trade for any laboratory. It seems obvious that “information therapy” would play directly to the strengths of clinical laboratories. When you learn more, I think you’ll agree.
There is a growing body of evidence which indicates that consumers who access accurate and carefully vetted medical information will generate fewer visits to either the emergency room or the physician’s office. This reduces the cost of caring for these patients. This has been the experience at Kaiser Permanente, which is moving rapidly to incorporate information therapy into its continuum of care. In 1996, Kaiser launched Kaiser Permanente Online as a pilot project. It is a password-protected site that offers a variety of services: health and drug encyclopedias, personalized health risk assessments, e-mail connections to nurses and physicians for questions and on-line appointment booking, and doctor-monitored health discussion groups. Originally started with 1,000 members, it now has almost 325,000 registered members. Kaiser estimates that 71% of its eight million beneficiaries have access to the Web, so it’s beefing up the capacity of its Website.
Another place to learn more about information therapy is Healthwise, a non-profit organization in Boise, Idaho. For years, Healthwise has produced pamphlets and other patient-information materials for healthcare providers. It is now expanding into Web-based health information services.
The concept of information therapy is perfect for laboratories. After all, within the healthcare system, who knows more about when and why it’s appropriate to order a specific lab test, and how to interpret the results? This is a tailor-made opportunity for laboratories to establish direct links with consumers and educate them about the importance of laboratory testing to all aspects of their personal health.
I’ll end with a provocative quote from Anna-Lisa Silvestre, Director of Kaiser Permanente Online. She says: “The Internet is becoming a triage station consumers go to first, whereas before they might have come in to the doctor or done nothing at all.”