Who is serving whom?

What are we going to do with the data once we have collected it? Often, when I ask this question, the answer is vague.

In the race for big data the purpose has sometimes been forgotten. It’s like doing research without formulating a question first.

I wonder who is serving whom: Are IT systems supporting health providers or are we increasingly following rigid templates and blindly harvesting information for reasons we often don’t even understand?

It is time to pause and gain a better understanding of where we want to go. How can data and IT best support patient care and public health into the future?

What can stakeholders agree on with regards to secondary use of data? Where are the trap doors?

The outcome should always be a win-win, or mutual benefit.

How should Primary Health Networks support GPs?

It appears the new  Primary Health Networks (PHNs) are here to for the long haul. There is an enormous opportunity for PHNs to add value where they support quality primary healthcare services to the community.

RACGP Queensland has developed a draft position statement identifying 4 concrete targets that should be aimed for in primary healthcare reform at a local level.

The targets are presented below. I believe that PHNs could play an important role in achieving these goals – in collaboration with GPs.

  1. PHNs are in an excellent position to assist healthcare providers and organisations to build effective relationships. PHNs should facilitate a shared health vision for their local area, exceeding disciplinary and organisational boundaries.
  2. PHNs should encourage continuity of care and make sure new models and initiatives do not further fragment our health system and/or adversely affect health outcomes.
  3. PHNs need to play an important role in facilitating better information exchange and communication between healthcare providers.
  4. PHNs should encourage the development of innovative models of care that introduce genuine integration between the various parts of the health system.

Your GP and Dr Google: a good team

Many of us use Google to look up health information. Even doctors google. I often use the search engine to show my patients for example images of anatomy or skin problems. As more people become tech-savvy and websites get better, I expect that Dr Google will be even more popular in the near future.

A study published in the Australian Family Physician in 2014 found that 63 percent of patients accessed the internet in the previous month; 28 percent had sought health information online; and 17 percent had obtained information related to problems addressed during a GP visit.

The challenge is of course to find reliable information. To help differentiate the good from the bad, have a look at this post: 6 warning signs that online health information may be unreliable.

It is recommended to check with a health practitioner that the information is applicable to you. Your doctor may be able to recommend some good resources too.

6 warning signs that online health information may be unreliable

If you are using Dr Google to find information about a health problem – like most people do – you will come across unreliable information. Here are 6 warning signs that will help you stay clear from quackery sites.

Information may simply be outdated or incomplete. But sometimes it is deliberately incorrect or manipulated, for example to make you buy something. How to differentiate between the good and the bad? (I admit, this is not always easy).

#1: The site wants to sell something

If a website is trying to sell a product, the information provided may not be objective. Be careful if the site is:

  • Showing lots of advertisements or testimonials, difficult to distinguish from the website content
  • Offering a free trial, money back guarantee or special offer
  • Using phrases or words like: Recommended by doctors, used by professionals, scientifically proven, patented technology, or guaranteed results.

A site may not explain that its main purpose is to sell something. Stay clear if it sounds too good to be true, for example if the website is promising you a miracle or magic cure, amazing results, or a new, quick or easy way to fix your health problem.

#2: It is not clear who makes the claims

Always check if a trustworthy health professional or professional organisation is providing the online information, like the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners or Physicians, the Australian Medical Association, the Consumer Health Forum of Australia or the National Prescribing Service.

Are links to original sources or scientific research provided? Missing or insufficient information may be a clue that a website is not reliable. Websites carrying the HON Code or HealthInsite logos are usually reliable.

#3: The website is out-of-date

Always check how old the information is. Has the website recently been updated? If the information is more than 2-3 years old it’s best to look for a different source of information – or talk to a health professional.

#4: The site has a less reliable domain

Trustworthy health websites contain the domains .gov, .org or .edu, indicating that the information comes from the government, a not for profit organisation or a university.

This doesn’t mean that other websites are always unreliable, but it’s good to find out who is sponsoring or paying for a commercial website (.com or .com.au) before relying on the information. You particularly want to know if the information favors the sponsor.

Websites written by a single person are less reliable than websites run by professional organisations. Yes, that includes this blog (I just shot myself in the foot, didn’t I?)

#5: You have landed on Wikipedia

Wikipedia scores high in search engines so it’s easy to arrive at a Wikipedia page. As much as I like Wikipedia, one study showed that it may contain errors.

#6: The site is requesting your information

Reliable health information is freely available online (at no cost), so there is no need to give a website your details, like your email address. If you must submit personal information, check what will happen with your details first.

Look for the website’s Privacy Policy: this tells you how a website or organisation manages your personal information. You may want to know if your data will be sold or provided to other organisations. A Disclosure Notice informs you if a site receives funding or accepts forms of paid advertising, sponsorship, or paid topic insertions.

More information

A rule of thumb: Don’t rely on one source. Try to find other reliable websites or sources confirming a message or claim about a product or service. Ask an AHPRA-registered doctor or health professional if you’re not sure.

If you would like to know more about finding reliable health information online, have a look at this 16-minute tutorial by the US National Library of Medicine.

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