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CONSUMER HEALTH INFORMATICS
health informatics is a relatively new discipline and has been defined by
health informatics is the branch of medical informatics that analyses
consumers’ needs for information; studies and implements methods of making
information accessible to consumers; and models and integrates consumers’
preferences into medical information systems.” 1
health informatics thus provides patients in their role as consumer of healthy
information with the tools, skills and support they need to better manage their
health decisions.2 There are a variety of
sources for health information with the patients being the biggest resource.
3 The explanations of their problems, along with tests
and procedures that are carried out, represent the greatest portion of
information processed in healthcare.
providers with this wealth of information are turning to consumer health
informatics to provide patients with not only health advice brought about by
the analysis of the information but with an opportunity to manage certain
aspects of the being the source of information by building their own patient
can be done using methods ranging from using pen and paper through using the
telephone to acquire information to the using of software on a patient’s
personal computer that allows them to manage their records and observations
through a private website.
the United Kingdom, one of the goals of the National
Health Service (NHS) is to provide patients with access to their
records by the year 2004 and pilot studies (as part of the
NHS Information Authority ERDIP) already carried out have shown that
this has improved the quality of information found in the records. 4
health informatics provides three models, which can be used to distribute
Consumer Health Informatics at the individual level
this model, health information can be passed on to the patient during
consultations with their physicians. The physician can educate the patient
about their conditions and the various options open to them, and also give
explanations on the decisions taken to manage their condition. This is
especially useful with patients with long-term conditions such as diabetes and
are another good source of information, and they can contain facts about common
ailments and clinical scenarios. The leaflets can also contain information
about support groups and self help materials. These leaflet are usually handed
out during consultations.
Aided Learning (CAL) tools are beginning to play an increasing role in
consumer health informatics, as organisations are now producing software
programs packaged in compact discs (CDs) as a tool for educating the more
sophisticated patients who need to learn more about their condition and how to
best manage it.
Consumer Health Informatics at the organisational level
organisations have begun to see an increase in the number of health-conscious
patient, and this has led to an increase in the demand for health information.
While these patients can find health information outside of the traditional
healthcare make-up, many still look to their healthcare providers a trustworthy
source of information.
providers can tailor information for their patients for a number of issues
ranging from lifestyle and diet advice to providing information about repeat
prescriptions for patient in long term care. Practices can take advantage of
the Internet by providing websites where all these information is freely
available, or use news groups or email distribution lists to regularly provide
their patient with health information.
Consumer Health Informatics at the societal level
form of consumer health informatics is commonly associated with e-Health and
focuses on the communication to the patients as well as the general public. The
Internet facilities consumer-to-consumer applications, which are
empowering patients in ways previously not seen. In recent years there has been
an explosion of health information available on the Internet, through consumer
health websites and are some of them being the most visited sites on the
The quality of information varies and stemming
from this it would be useful to provide a quality-controlled source of
healthcare information to the consumer. 6
like Health On The Net Foundation with
its HON code and Discern seek to
provide a code of conduct that websites aim to adhere to: criteria include
- Honesty in advertising and
- Transparency of authorship
- Transparency of sponsorship
Health Informatics becomes more pervasive many returns will be seen notably:
Large Increase in computer and
internet-based electronic communication
- Health consumers who are
progressively more secure with the electronic transfer of information between
them and healthcare professional and organisations.
- Patients who are increasingly
responsible for their health care decision-making.
- The quality of care
deliverables will increase; length of admissions as well as their number and
frequency will reduce
- There will be an improvement in
the continuity of care
- Guaranteed validity and
consistency of the available information
- Effective privacy and data
- A strengthening of the
physician-patient relationship in which information flows in both directions.
Eysenbach G. Recent Advances: Consumer Health Informatics. BMJ
2000; 320: 1713–16
National Library of Medicine.; National Institutes of Health.
[WWW] 3RD July 2003. Consumer Health Informatics Research.
Louise.; Robinson, Paul.; e-Clinical Governance. Radcliffe Medical Press
IT Perspective Ltd. [WWW] 27TH January 2003. ERDIP
Local Evaluation Support: Final Report.
BBC News. [WWW] 14TH September 2003. Health websites
gaining popularity. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2249606.stm
Eysenbach G.; Jadad AR. Evidence-based Patient Choice and
Consumer Health Informatics in the Internet Age. Journal of Medical Internet
Research 2001;3(2):e19 (URL: http://www.jmir.org/2001/2/e19/)
Health On the Net Foundation. [WWW] 23TH April 2003.
HON Code of Conduct (HONcode) for medical and health Web sites : Principles.
http://www.hon.ch/HONcode/Conduct.html. (08TH September
Consumer Health website run by the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK.
Hugely popular consumer health site.
Health on the Net Foundation
Non-profit organisation that provides guidance for health information on the