By Veronica Hunt
Research indicates that the second most frequent burn injury occurs in the kitchen. I saw this first-hand a few weeks ago when Sunday dinner at my mom’s house went from an evening of good food and fun to an evening of chaos and confusion when my mom accidentally spilled hot cooking oil on her right hand.
Of course accidents happen, but what struck me most was how my siblings and I reacted. With my mother writhing in pain, my first instinct was to run to my iPad to research how to treat the burn. Meanwhile, my two brothers ran for their smartphones to do the same, one saying there must be an app for that. Only my sister had the good sense to shove my mom’s hand under running water and dodge into the bathroom to grab the first aid handbook and kit. Eventually – via handbook, Internet and apps – we figured out what to do and treated my mom’s hand. It wasn’t until we were driving home that I began to wonder if we have reached a point where access to health information has overcome common sense.
Information for Information’s Sake
The number of Americans turning to the Internet for health information keeps growing. Fifty-eight percent of 50-64 year-olds, 66 percent of 30-49 year-olds, and 71 percent of 18-29 year-olds look online for health information. Only 29 percent of adults age 65+ look online for health information, and that’s likely because only 40 percent have access to the Internet.
There are countless reputable websites that provide general information on a multitude of health conditions and treatment options (WebMD, MayoClinic, FamilyDoctor). And, there are countless sites that offer disease or condition-specific information. When researching burn treatment methods, About.com, Wikihow, eHow and YouTube were quite useful.
But there is so much more! There are numerous apps specifically designed to help consumers streamline health information, and 40 percent of consumers are using social media to seek health information. While all of this information is helpful, it can create cyberchondriacs who are inappropriately self-diagnosing, as well as interpreting and spreading misinformation. Yet, this information overload is also revolutionizing health care by empowering consumers to take charge of their physical and mental health and shifting the paradigm for consuming health information online and causing health practitioners to change the way they interact with their patients.
Physicians too are using the Web, accessing and sharing health information in their office, in the patient room and via social networks. In fact, a recent survey revealed that physician use of the Internet for professional purposes is up, from 2.5 hours per week in 2002 to 8 hours per week in 2010.
So where does this leave us? In retrospect, it was the combination of online and traditional information that helped us care for my mom. Reading the first aid handbook and reinforcing what we were reading with Web video was paramount to our success and ability to remain calm and in control despite all the chaos. It seems to me that a smart balance between seeking health information on the Web and seeking information from traditional sources, like a first aid book or physician, makes the most sense. The ancient Greeks had a maxim – “Nothing in Excess” – which applied to every aspect of life, including health. I think they had it right.
As for my mom, thankfully she’s recovering nicely. The day after her accident she went to see her personal physician who prescribed a home treatment plan. She’s expected to regain full mobility of her hand in a few weeks.