Googlers vs. e-patients vs. cyberchondriacs

Tara Parker-Pope’s blog, Well, sparked an outcry last week when she posted, “A Doctor’s Disdain for Medical ‘Googlers’”. Before you read her post and all the comments (275 so far), I recommend reading the actual Time column which inspired it all.

I’d love to hear what people think about the issues raised, but I also want us to notice the use of the term “googler” to describe the group we would call “e-patients” (and that Harris Interactive would call “cyberchondriacs.”) I deliberately linked to the Wikipedia definitions for each of the terms because they would not appear in any conventional dictionary and because these terms are still being defined.

My question: Do labels matter? Would the French Revolution have gone differently if the peasants had not been called “les sans-culottes“? When history judges the nativist America First Party, will they get better marks than the Know Nothing Party because they had a better name?

What does it mean that some people talk about e-patients in terms of the search engine they often choose, while others talk about them in pejorative terms (even if the slur was not intended)?

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10 Responses to “Googlers vs. e-patients vs. cyberchondriacs”

  1. It is fascinating to blame technology, or information, for people’s personality failings. There may be more self-absorbed narcissists showing up in Dr. Haig’s office these days, since our culture tends to encourage rather than dampen those tendencies in people. But someone’s decision to inform herself about her condition or her physician surely does not make her a narcissist, or a “cyberchondriac” either. The most intensive users of online health information are people with very real, very serious or chronic health conditions.

    Oddly, comments posted in response to Jon Lebkowsky’s column about e-patients on http://www.worldchanging.com(http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/007597.html) also exhibit a distrust of people’s ability to exercise discrimination regarding the health information they find online. Yet patients are being urged in the Wall Street Journal (Health Journal, 11/20/2007) to use the Internet to investigate their doctors’ financial entanglements with drug and device companies. If we can’t unravel medical information, how in the world will we make sense of any financial information we find?

    This skepticism of people’s ability to use their judgment is at variance with my impression of most of the people who ask questions on our Web site, peoplespharmacy.com. By and large, these folks are careful, well-informed, and want to know the reasons and research behind our recommendations. Most are happy to partner with health care providers, so long as they can find those who are willing to be partners. Is there any research to show the relative frequency of people focusing on the weirder stuff that is available online vs locating the information that they and their health care providers can use?

  2. Charlie Smith says:

    Susannah,

    These terms clearly have a negative connotations, as so vividly described in Dr. Haig’s article. He obviously was turned off and was anxious to put as much distance as possible between himself and the patient.

    On the other hand, referring to patients who use the internet to get information that allows them to make better decisions about their health as “e patients” is a neutral, if not respectful, term. And, in my view, respect and encouragement is what they deserve, not this thinly veiled name calling that sounds more like a disease that the wave of health care’s future.

    Referring to an “e patient” as a “Googler” or a “Cyberchondriac” is about like calling a patient a “Crock” or a “Gomer”. Dr. Haig should really be ashamed to write this piece and, from what I can tell, has gotten a piece of many people’s minds as a result.

    Interesting, stimulating post. Thanks.

    Charlie

  3. e-Patient Dave says:

    > Do labels matter

    Holy crap, yes! I’m just catching up on all this. I just read Dr. Haig’s original article and the follow-up bloggage and Salon article. Lots of thoughtful reaction and plenty of kneejerk crap.

    At work I’m involved a little with the marketing discipline of branding (“it is what [brands] do for people that matters … how they reflect and engage them, how they define their aspiration and enable them to do more” – Wikipedia 2/10/08). Plus, the whole discussion about memes illustrates how powerful it can be: “some ideas will propagate less successfully and become extinct, while others will survive, spread, and, for better or for worse, mutate.”

    When word is spreading in a time of disruptive social change, few things could be more potent than what an idea is called when people first learn about it.

    If we get “branded” as rude idiots, with good evidence to support it, that’s a problem.

    Today on my blog I’ll urge that we actively encourage the use of the term e-patient. It’s a good eyebrow-raising term – a legitimate attention-getter – and you folks here have done a good job of establishing what it means.

    Let’s fortify and protect that “brand.” We’re not a commercial enterprise – it’s not that kind of brand – but the principles that make a great brand work (see the Wikipedia article) can help this patient-centered initiative, too.

  4. […] as well as a survey of 515 Microsoft employees. They also did a great service to those of us who have a problem with the term “cyberchondriac” since they define cyberchondria as “the unfounded […]

  5. SusannahFox says:

    @VinceKuraitis Here's an old post I wrote about googlers vs. cyberchondriacs vs. e-patients http://bit.ly/4bZvMS

  6. ePatientDave says:

    True classic post: RT @SusannahFox: @VinceKuraitis An old post I wrote abt googlers vs. cyberchondriacs vs. e-patients http://bit.ly/4bZvMS

  7. […] of how to describe people who use the internet to gather health information. For example: Googlers vs. e-patients vs. cyberchondriacs. Amy Tenderich of DiabetesMine had another good take on this topic:  “Patients” versus […]

  8. […] posts: Googlers vs. e-patients vs. cyberchondriacs and Cyberchondria: Old Wine in New […]

  9. […] as well as a survey of 515 Microsoft employees. They also did a great service to those of us who have a problem with the term “cyberchondriac” since they define cyberchondria as “the unfounded […]

  10. […] of how to describe people who use the internet to gather health information. For example: Googlers vs. e-patients vs. cyberchondriacs. Amy Tenderich of DiabetesMine had another good take on this topic:  “Patients” versus […]

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