Twenty-six years ago this month, Sir Timothy John “Tim” Berners-Lee proposed an information management system that would become the World Wide Web. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The Millennials of today have little idea of what life was like before the Internet, and even those of us who are old enough to be Sir Tim’s peers – or older – have a hard time remembering life in the pre-digital world. But, in 1989, this is how we did health care:
- If you wanted information about a disease, condition or procedure, your options were:
- Ask your doctor or nurse for information.
- Get pamphlets or other printed materials from your doctor’s office or maybe your local health department.
- Go to the library and search the encyclopedia (if you didn’t have a set of encyclopedias at home) or periodicals.
- Call or write to a related organization (American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, American Diabetes Association, etc.) to request information.
- If you needed to make an appointment with your doctor, you called his/her office.
- If you needed to see your doctor, you had to go to his/her office or clinic.
- If you needed help with your health insurance, you called the insurance company.
- If someone you knew was in the hospital, you could communicate with that person by calling on the phone, sending a get-well card via snail mail, or visiting the person in the hospital. Or you could call a florist and have a floral arrangement delivered.
- Hospital and health system marketing departments focused largely on print advertising media, with TV and radio ads thrown in for good measure.
- Essentially all documentation was on paper – lots and lots and lots of paper. Much of the documentation was handwritten, from doctors’ orders to nurses’ notes to prescriptions.
- Faxing was a fast and relatively high-tech way to communicate.
- If you needed a prescription medication, your doctor either handed you a handwritten prescription or faxed it to your pharmacy.
- If you wanted to compare prices of prescription medications, you pulled out the Yellow Pages of the phone book (note to Millennials: you may want to google “phone book”), looked up pharmacies, and called them to check on prescription prices.
- If you were looking for a new doctor or other provider, you asked your family, friends and coworkers for recommendations.
As the Internet’s reach grew and technology was developed to help leverage it, consumers began to go online more and more. While other businesses were relatively quick to adopt the Internet as part of their business strategy, the health care industry was slow to catch on. Even as consumers clamored for more health information online, the American Medical Association in 2000 issued a press release urging people not to seek health information online, to fend off the possibility of not being the primary source of health information for their patients.
But the AMA was no match for Netscape Navigator, the first widely-used Web browser, or Internet Explorer, which eventually overtook Navigator as the preferred browser. The amount of health information available online continued to increase exponentially, and Websites such as DrKoop.com became more common. As the amount of health information increased, concerns about the accuracy and veracity of online information grew. Organizations such as URAC and Health on the Net Foundation were created to develop standards for improving the quality of health information online.
In the meantime, on the business side of health care, marketers began to realize the value of investing in a Website and an online strategy. They found that consumers’ thirst for health information could be leveraged by health care organizations to attract patients to their facilities and services by providing the sought-after information on their Websites. And as technology such as high-speed internet, text messaging, podcasting and mobile devices grew, consumers demanded to get health information on all channels.
So, here we are in 2015 – this is how we do health care:
- If you want information about a disease, condition or procedure, you simply type the term into a search engine and pick from thousands of search results. Or you can use a mobile app. You can get static content, videos, podcasts or text messages and you can get this content on your computer, Smartphone or tablet.
- If you need to make an appointment with your doctor, you can go online to request an appointment through a patient portal, or use a chat session to set up the appointment. Or you can call on the phone.
- If you need to see a doctor, you can go to his/her office or clinic, or you can schedule a virtual visit through a service such as MDLive, Doctor on Demand, or another similar service.
- If you need help with your health insurance, you can send an email, go online and use the portal, or chat with a representative. Or you can call on the phone.
- If someone you know is in the hospital, you can communicate with that person by email, Skype, text message, CarePages or CaringBridge. You can go online to pick out a floral arrangement to send. Or you can call on the phone or send a get-well card via snail mail.
- Hospital and health system marketing departments are increasingly using digital assets and platforms. Just having a Website isn’t enough. With the advent of mobile devices and social media, patient engagement is a 24/7/365 proposition in 2015.
- While there’s still a good bit of actual paper in use, documentation is increasingly via electronic means. EHRs, patient portals and other digital platforms.
- If you look hard enough, you can probably find a fax machine somewhere. But more often, documents are scanned or created electronically and sent via email.
- If you need a prescription medication, your doctor can hand you a computer-generated prescription or fax/email the prescription to your pharmacy. You can also use an online pharmacy and order online or via email or chat.
- If you want to compare prices of prescription medications, you can search online for prices.
- If you are looking for a new doctor or other provider, you can go online and search various Websites, from professional physician organizations to sites such as HealthGrades.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee started a revolution in 1989 and we’re all the better off for it. Who knows what the next 26 years will bring? What will health care look like in 2041?