Vital Signs

The Internet preps for a medical miracle

Baby boomers want to live forever — healthy, vital and buff — and that desire may soon fuel a new type of Internet boom.

Although online medical services have so far been largely a bust, e-health experts predict that in just a few years, the Internet will be so woven into the fabric of medicine that much of the $2 trillion Americans will spend annually on health care will be filtered through the public network.

Internet-savvy consumers, hungry for health information, will spark a revolution in personalized medicine that experts said will send shock waves through insurers, employers, doctors, pharmaceutical companies and the Internet itself. Individuals will become their own health-care organizations, crafting customized medical plans to protect themselves and their families from very personalized genetic risks.

Using the Internet to specifically define their priorities and care, people will also be willing to spend a lot more of their own money on the promise of living longer lives, experts at a recent e-commerce health conference sponsored by Forrester Research agreed. And they will give much of it to high-tech companies that can offer trustworthy remote monitoring, encryption software, virtual private networks (VPNs), personalized portals and firewall protection. Much of the rest will find its way to any e-business that can simplify and personalize the relationships among patients, their physicians and their pills.

"Tech companies supplying digital solutions that re-engineer the processes to be cheaper, better and faster — without losing the human element — will be the big winners," said Douglas Goldstein, author of E-Healthcare: Harness the Power of Internet e-Commerce & e-Care.

To back up their predictions of an e-health-care boom, experts pointed out that the average time a doctor spends with a patient has dwindled to just 15 minutes. Frustrated, consumers are increasingly going online for answers to their health questions. While browsing sites such as Medscape and WebMD, they are finding that they have more choices in doctors, insurers, treatments and pills.

And that opens new opportunities to make astonishing amounts of money off Web-savvy baby boomers obsession with their own immortality.

"Society is going to spend more of its money on health care," said Kenneth Conway, president of Millennium Predictive Medicine. "Were going to pay for it out of our own pockets."