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[BLOG] by HISA’s Leadership & Advocacy Director Dr Josie Di Donato

Inspired by the wisdom of the past, I set the scene for this month’s topic – consumer informatics and ePatients….

Back in the day, the motor car company Ford had a philosophy on “customer choice” that went like this: Consumers could have any colour car as long as it was black.  Roll in competition from General Motors (GM) and theirs was an alternate view: A company with a single option was doomed to mediocrity. What the market needed was “a car for every purse and purpose”. Polar opposites in thinking. Aversion to change versus commitment to tweaks each year to keep the brand fresh and new.

In both cases though, the underlying approach to customer-centredness wasn’t different. In both cases, the manufacturer knew best. What does any of this have to do with ePatients and consumer informatics you ask?

Despite the best intentions

A digitally enabled and integrated health system that delivers on its vision for patient-centred care is still from a provider-led perspective within a service-centric paradigm.

It is of course absolutely essential for facilities to drive improvements in their care delivery processes, ensure systems are as safe and secure as possible and that the patient experience is positive. No one disputes that because we all need to trust in the quality and safety of our healthcare system.

The investments in EMRs and other clinical systems for healthcare facilities, while necessary, must not be confused with what it means to create a health ecosystem conducive to consumer informatics and empowered patients.

The levers for consumer informatics and ePatients are different

Descriptions for consumer informatics and ePatients do not mention EMRs or similar systems designed for healthcare facilities.

Informatics from multiple consumer and patient views is how Wikipedia describes consumer informatics (in adopting the American Medical Informatics Association’s (AMIA) definition). Closely related is the concept of ePatients. These are not cyborgs and the ‘e’ does not represent electronic. In fact, ePatients was coined well before technology became a significant part of daily life. Dr Tom Ferguson, co-founder of the Society for Participatory Medicine described the ‘e” as individuals who are: equipped, enabled, empowered and engaged[1].

We all want to be ePatients. With the help of appropriate technology and information, the transition is made easier.

As for ePatients in today’s healthcare system, if we expect our healthcare system to take an active role in this space, real movement away from the typical healthcare guideposts is needed.  That is, the physical buildings, facility-based workforce, and hospital-in-the-home initiatives on the fringes of care.

Perhaps the healthcare system has enough to do

An alternative perspective would be that the healthcare system doesn’t own every aspect of healthcare. That healthcare as we know continues as is and in time become niche because Dr Amazon, Dr Apple and Dr Google have consumer informatics and ePatients covered.

To continue the conversation, send through your comments here.


[1] https://medicinex.stanford.edu/what-is-an-epatient-2/


The Health Informatics Society of Australia (HISA) has merged with the Australasian College of Health Informatics (ACHI) to form the Australasian Institute of Digital Health on Monday 24 February 2020. This site will no longer be updated and will be preserved for archive. Visit us at the Institute! www.digitalhealth.org.au.