What you need to know about the new breed of ‘e-patients’—high-tech, informed, and engaged

I am now seeing a new type of patient—the e-patient. Many of these highly informed, high-tech patients come to my referral clinic from Pune and Bangalore—the Silicon Valley of India.

“E-patients are often experts about their own conditions or illnesses—and they are happy to share their expertise with others.”
-Aniruddha Malpani, MD, medical director of Malpani Infertility Clinic in Mumbai, India

Initially, e-patients referred to those patients who used email and the Web. Today, the e-patient has become much more sophisticated.

E-patients are engaged—with their medical professionals, with their health, and with their healthcare system. They do not just read content—sometimes they even create it. “User-generated content” is a very[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]…

[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()] powerful concept, because patients provide first-hand health-related information to other patients, in the form of:

Key Point: E-patients are those patients who are engaged, who leverage technology, and who are knowledgeable about their health conditions or illnesses and are anxious to share that information with others. This approach means that these patients are more participatory in their own healthcare and often more successful at completing your treatment plans. They can also be an excellent resource to help and support other patients.
  • blogs—their own, and comments on others’ blogs
  • online health-related support groups
  • Wikipedia updates
  • comments on Web sites—doctor review sites and general or niche healthcare sites
  • social media
  • and a number of other outlets.

Information sharing

E-patients tend to be empowered, knowledgeable, and articulate. They have opinions and are happy to express them. E-patients are often experts about their own conditions or illnesses—and they are happy to share their expertise with others.

They are equipped. They understand how to use the Web and related technology to help themselves and to help others. They often will lead and participate in online support groups and are able to discuss highly technical clinical medical matters intelligently with their doctors. They do not underestimate their own competence or intelligence and understand that they have the most at stake when it comes to matters relating to their health.

E-patients are enabled. They have access to technology and use it intelligently.

Leveraging the value of your e-patients

E-patients are often exceptional patients. They are even the kind of patients who can heal a sick healthcare system. They are the icons of a new kind of medicine, called participatory medicine.

It might seem easy to be intimidated by an e-patient, but e-patients can be of great help to you—both in the success of their own care and in sparking communication with other patients and potential patients. You may want to see if any of your e-patients are open to:

  • sharing their thoughts with you about what patients with their condition or illness want to know
  • providing sources of online information that they find to be useful so that you can vet them to possibly share with other patients
  • sharing their positive experiences at your medical clinic with others through online outlets such as doctor review sites and blogs
  • leading support groups of your patients that you facilitate—either in person or online.

Good doctors appreciate and treasure e-patients—and form partnerships with them, because we can learn a lot from each other.

Aniruddha Malpani, MD Dr. Malpani is medical director of Malpani Infertility Clinic in Mumbai, India, medical director of the HELP-Health Education Library for People, and author of a physician and patient education blog. He is an angel investor in Plus 91, which offers customized Web sites for doctors.


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