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Prior to a doctor’s visit, have you ever Googled information about your concerns beforehand? Commonly known as a “medical googler”, Googling health information or looking at WebMD is often assumed to be for “hypochondriacs” or “Wannabe Doctors”.  However, there is actually a movement out there promoting the healthy use of the internet for healthcare information.

By Googling information, you have taken your first step towards becoming an “E-Patient”.  Being an E-patient is not only looking up information, it’s about having an informed conversation with your service provider. Furthermore, it is about being empowered as a user of services.

As a social worker on twitter, I began to hear about the “E-Patient” movement by engaging with healthcare professionals who are quite active on social media. These online interactions provide an opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary conversations which can help us view problems using a different lens. Patient advocates and groups often have direct access to professionals and the organizations they receive services via technology. According to ICH Best Health Magazine:

“Internet patients are both those people that suffer ailments, and the family and friends that support them. The Internet has allowed these e-patients to seek guidance, remedies, research symptoms, as well as participate in educational forums, and share experiences through support groups. You, here reading this are probably an e-patient, or have taken part in these behaviors, seeing as you are on this site.” See Full Article

The “E-Patient” movement nor Social Work Helper endorses replacing information found on the internet with actual medical advice. However, I want to share how I helped a parent become an “E-Patient”, and I didn’t know it.

A 12 year old client was struggling with enuresis also known as bed wetting, and there was uncertain whether the symptom was psychiatric or medical in nature. Prior to the visit with the Urologist, I provided the mother with a fact sheet about Bedwetting by the American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry. The parent reported back stating that she felt like the facts and questions made her feel not only informed but empowered to attend the medical appointment. This is exactly the spirit of the E-Patient movement.

Information on the internet is not a substitute for medical treatment, but it can help empower service users to seek treatment. Most importantly, the “E-patient movement also utilizes social media to connect service users directly with “E-patient” leaders.

With the help of technology, service providers continue the conversation and help create awareness on a range of issues using the hashtag #Epatient on Twitter. Also, there are individuals willing to share both their negative and positive experiences in order to help bring about change, and you can find them using the hashtag #LivedExp. View an example of 15 E-patient Advocates and their stories here.

The below presentation by Marie Ennis O’Connor is a great introduction to the E-Patient Movement. Marie is a breast cancer survivor who shares her experience in “The Rise of the E-Patient Movement”.

Sean Erreger is currently a Clinical Case Manager for youth with a mental health diagnosis.I have a decade of direct social work practice experience including adolescent day treatment, psychiatric emergency room, adult inpatient, and foster care prevention. Blogging and sharing social work resources at Stuck On Social Work

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