Web 2.0 Can Give Consumers More Control over Health Care

Microsoft says Web 2.0 is essential to helping consumers take control of their health care.

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Microsoft says Web 2.0 is the technology that will help consumers take control of their health care and health information.

Ben Flock, a Microsoft Healthcare & Life Sciences Industry advisor, told attendees during his closing keynote at Microsoft's Health & Life Sciences Developer and Solutions Conference, held April 22 through 24 in Atlantic City, N.J., that Web 2.0 technologies moved information out of isolated silos and into interlinked community computing platforms that function like software for users.

Flock said applying those same concepts to the health care industry would provide tools that would allow for better and more relevant information sharing, collaboration, and ultimately better care as consumers gained more control over their information and, ultimately, their health.

Web 2.0 features like product and service ratings, information search, social communities, and tools are a natural evolution of health care technology, Flock said, and represent a new business paradigm that companies and institutions will have to adopt in order to remain competitive and relevant.

"The social relevance factor is a moving target, especially in health care, because it's in such an early stage," Flock said. The key is successfully reaching out to partners, customers and consumers, he said, and Flock cited HealthVault as one way Microsoft was reaching health care consumers.

Click here to read more about Microsoft's HealthVault strategy.

One major obstacle to creating social relevance is fostering trust and credibility, said Brian Loew, founder of Inspire, a social networking health site that fosters the creation of health support groups. Web 2.0 has made it much easier for consumers to find trusted sources of information quickly and to use that information to better their health and the care they receive, he said.

"Twenty years ago, it used to be when you went to see your doctor, it was very hard to have a two-way conversation that countered or questioned a diagnosis, [or] helped you understand your medications," Loew said. But now, the power in the health care relationship is shifting to the consumer, he said.

Loew said sites like his Inspire.com are helping build relevance, authority and credibility by providing not just encyclopedic knowledge, but also trusted communities for emotional support.

Eventually, developments like these could evolve into what Flock called Health 2.0, which would expand Web 2.0 concepts beyond consumers to the entire health ecosystem of payers, providers, employers, life sciences entities and even the government. In short, Flock said, the process would include any person or entity that could contribute meaningful data that could inform, educate and empower health care consumers.

Flock said Web 2.0 encompassed three basic categories: rich Internet applications developed with technologies like AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), Silverlight and Flash; SOA (service-oriented architectures) such as Web services, RSS feeds and mashups; and the social Web, built of wikis, blogs, podcasts and social networking sites.