Health 2.0 in Europe: Couldn’t? Wouldn’t? Does!

They said it couldn’t happen in Europe, that social media and online tools wouldn’t catch on, because the healthcare context was soooo different from the US. They said that Europeans don’t worry about access and cost, that they aren’t looking for information online because they they trust their doctors utterly and fully, and that European doctors don’t go online, except if they're Scandinavian.

Well, it just isn’t so! True collective intelligence will tell you that participatory medicine is a natural human instinct and that Health 2.0 is kicking up a storm in Europe this winter! Consumers and professionals are generating content everywhere, even though they don't necessarily cross language or country borders. Unfortunately, no one European organization is studying consumer health Internet usage trends on the same basis year after year, as is the Pew Foundation in the U.S. Nonetheless, there is empiric proof; during the current flu epidemic, information from informal sources in Europe is fully surpassing official data. Wikipedia is cited in a recent study by Manhattan Research as one of the most regularly used sites for physicians and consumers across Europe. Private initiative has generated many significant consumer/patient communities, several major physician community portals, online consultation sites, and more.

But, while users are generally "with it", Europe institutions are not. What is at stake is the future of ill-prepared healthcare organizations and institutions and the regulated healthcare industries.

  • The Ministry of Health in France created a home page earlier in 2009 linking 3 official government information sites: the Ministry of Health, the French national drug agency and the French National Authority of Health, in the hopes of gaining greater visibility. Given their difficult navigation, poor ranking on search engines, and absence of commentary, none of these sites receive a fraction of the traffic of Wikipedia. The portal page is a failure.
  • According to a study by researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre (RUNMC), hospital social media use has begun in Europe but is low and not yet in the planning stages in most establishments. Dutch and English hospitals use the widest variety of social networking methods, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and particularly blogs but the figure is only 8.13%. 11% of Swedish hospitals use RSS feeds and 4% use blogs. Spanish and Danish hospitals follow with more than 8% using RSS feeds. Paris, France’s public hospital network, the Assistance Publique with 50+ hospitals doesn’t yet tweet, isn’t on Facebook and doesn’t have the manpower to do so. But its critics are.

Where Europe may truly be lagging, compared to the US, is in the adoption of personal health records by consumers. For years, public investment in Europe has gone toward largely state-run electronic medical records and telemedicine programs. And while there are recent personal health record initiatives, often in line with disease management programs, none has created a brand or scale equivalent to Microsoft HealthVault or Google Health.

However, In the Internet world, things change super fast. You know that.

Where will Health 2.0 be in Europe in April 2010? You’ll have to attend the conference to find out.

Denise Silber is the CEO of Basil Strategies. Denise is based in Paris and has been working in eHealth both in Europe and the US for more than a decade. She's also Health 2.0 LLC’s partner in putting on Health 2.0 Europe, April 6–7, 2010 in Paris.

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