Traditionally, patients are passive recipients of medical care with little or no role to play in deciding their own treatments plans should they get sick. Patients are isolated from one another and rarely communicate or share knowledge. Healthcare occurs primarily when you enter the healthcare system. For many years, this was the only model possible. But Web 2.0 puts the informed patient into a new context. It enables a new model of medicine we call ‘collaborative healthcare.’
Two brothers, both MIT engineers, created PatientsLikeMe in 2002 as a way to help fast track learning on ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease when their brother was diagnosed at the age of 29. Now PatientsLikeMe is one of the web’s most vibrant web communities. Its 80,000 members share personal details of their medical history with fellow members. The data they contribute is aggregated to track patterns and responses to various treatments. For rare diseases like ALS, many doctors may only encounter one or two patients in their lifetime. But PatientsLikeMe allows doctors and patients to compare and review treatments with thousands of other patients, helping quickly inform the next course of action.
The benefit of collaborative healthcare is that it would give us a system that is less expensive, safer and better than what we have today. For the first time, the Web 2.0 enables people to self-organize, contribute to the total sum of knowledge, share information, support each other and become active in managing their own health. And when patients get engaged, they can manage their own health more effectively, help reducing costs and improve medical outcomes for society.