Online Health Content: The Challenge of Interpretation

Is there quality health content online? I think that there is – you just need to know where to find it.

But the real challenge with health content online isn’t so much the content (although that’s a huge concern). The big challenge is Interpretation.

Health data without context isn’t information. Data is just data – it has no value in itself.

Information, however, is the relevant data needed to make a decision based on risk.

And this is where rests one of the hardest tasks of using the Web as best as possible in health.

In The Problem with Casual Medical Advice, Bryan Vartabedian (@Doctor_V on Twitter) raises a related point about the problem of limited context:

Everybody understands legalese.  Few, however, understand the complexity of a properly executed medical encounter.

This matter of interpretation in order to convert data into information is perhaps one of the ‘holy grails” of online medicine. I don’t know if we’ll achieve it anytime soon – not at least until our media and remote-monitoring technologies go Star Trek.

But there probably are some ways to problem-solve which medical schools and researchers may want to start exploring.

For now, though, getting more providers comfortable with being online is an important first step – that way they’ll learn how to port their patients into the right contexts of communication and collaboration.

As the public expects more physicians and other practitioners to engage them online – or at least have some presence – this problem of ensuring the proper contexts of interpretation will continue to need attention.

Perhaps this is something which Ted Eytan (@TedEytan on Twitter) and his colleagues can continue to do through the kind of work they did on The Permanente Journal. Do check out what they did – their work has been long in the waiting.



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