Tunnah’s musings: welcome to the age of information therapy

In the wake of this year’s Doctors 2.0 & You event in Paris, Paul Tunnah muses on one of the brightest prospects for patients emerging from the worlds of medicine, technology and digital media – the potential for information to save lives.

Last week I found myself at the annual Doctors 2.0 & You event in Paris, now in its fifth year and held once again in the picturesque surroundings of the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris.

Having been a regular attendee in recent years I can honestly say it is one of my favourite events in the health space. Very few others introduce me to quite so many new people worth connecting with and it always stimulates my thinking about the future of healthcare. Part of this stems from its unique blend of attendees, which includes doctors, patients, pharma industry executives, technology companies and innovative start-ups.

“These ’empowered patients’ are driven by a desire to be educated patients”

 

It’s hard to do the meeting justice in one small article, but the key thing that I took away from it this year is that, while medical and technological advances are important, the power of information is, quite literally, life-saving.

Educated patients

As one of the first events to receive the Patients Included accreditation, it was no surprise to see so many patients both taking part in, and involved in planning, this year’s meeting. Many are individuals who I have had the pleasure of meeting before, but there were also plenty of new people with stories to tell.

And a common theme throughout these stories was that these ’empowered patients’ are driven by a desire to be educated patients – to understand as much as possible about their conditions so that they are best placed to help themselves and others. From those living with and surviving particular conditions themselves, such as Liza Bernstein, Christine Bienvenu, Vanessa Carter, Marie Ennis-O’Connor, Seth Ginsberg, Andrew Schorr, Alan Thomas and Nuria Zuniga to others who have lost loved ones and want to help others avoid the same circumstance, such as the amazing Andrea Borondy Kitts, they all have a common thirst for the power of information to drive change.

 

 Epatient Andrew Schorr: “If I’d listened only to my first oncologist I’d now be dead.”

I’d recommend following all of them on Twitter if you can and checking out their stories, all of which hold lessons. In particular, the work of Andrea Borondy Kitts in changing insurance coverage for lung cancer screening in the US via a consolidated information and social media campaign is impressive and has doubtless saved thousands of lives.

The power of information to help them in their journey, by understanding their condition, current and upcoming treatments, who the best physicians are and who else to connect with is clearly evident. Perhaps Andrew Schorr summed it up best when he said, “If I’d listened only to my first oncologist I’d now be dead.”

Taking information therapy beyond epatients

However, I think we are on the cusp of the ‘information therapy’ employed by these epatients becoming available to everyone, driven by a number of factors.

As Hungarian doctor and medical futurist Bertalan Meskó so elegantly presented, technology is revolutionising healthcare and, to be more specific, the power of wearables and devices in the home to monitor health in real time and provide early warning signs of any problems is impressive. From ensuring we get the best possible sleep, through mobile phone electrocardiograms and into personal genetic profiling to highlight risks – health science fiction is fast becoming science fact.

 

“If I’d listened only to my first oncologist I’d now be dead”

 

But novel digital channels are also opening up the potential for everyone to quickly ramp up their knowledge of particular health issues. While broad ‘consumer’ sites and patient communities such as WebMD, Wikipedia and PatientsLikeMe have been around for a while, new approaches are emerging to streamline the process of digesting relevant health information. Last year’s winner of the Doctors 2.0 & You start-up competition, Medivizor, is one such example, which curates the most relevant online information based on the profile of the consumer.

Gaming techniques also hold enormous potential for helping people learn about health risks and warning signs. Cancer Research UK is already deploying mobile games as a way of crowdsourcing cancer analysis to fast-track research, but how long will it be before large organisations like this, and others, turn their attention to using the same techniques for more public health initiatives?

Doctors need information too

While the focus of this piece has been on the power of information therapy for patients, it’s important to remember that the same principle can be applied to every other healthcare stakeholder. The ability of doctors, for example, to accurately and efficiently diagnose their patients, and be up to date on the most appropriate interventions, is critical.

Unsurprisingly, those activities that help them do this better, such as medical education, rank as popular within online physician communities. But, noted Peter Kirk (CEO of Sermo), the demand for real-time information is driving enormous interaction around sharing real patient case studies online, effectively crowdsourcing opinion on diagnosis and treatment. Many are increasingly using open social media channels to help educate and inform their peers, such as the passionate medically-qualified Tweeter Bernadette Keefe.

 

“The most important asset technology is enabling in beating disease is information therapy”

 

 

In summary, Doctors 2.0 & You once again served as a reminder that the field of ‘medicine’ is broadening beyond our wildest expectations. Drug therapies are becoming just one weapon in the arsenal against disease, which is being revolutionised by technology.

But perhaps the most important asset technology is enabling in beating disease is information therapy – personalised, relevant information for patients, doctors and everyone else in the healthcare spectrum.

It has the power to transform and save lives – and it’s coming to you very soon.

Until next month, keep informed and stay well.

About the author:

Paul Tunnah is CEO & Founder of pharmaphorum media, which facilitates productive engagement for pharma, bringing healthcare together to drive medical innovation. It combines industry-leading content and social media engagement services with the globally recognised news, information and insight portal pharmaphorum.com, working with pharmaceutical companies, service providers and broader healthcare organisations to help communicate their thought leadership and connect them with relevant stakeholders.

For queries he can be reached through the site contact form or on Twitter @pharmaphorum.

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