Log on and get answers
By Sky Dayton
(Originally published July, 2001)
We're alive at an interesting time. Over the next few years and the coming decades, we will see incredible advances in medicine, including cures for fatal diseases, greater longevity, and improved overall fitness and health.
As I mentioned in a recent bLink column, I think the Internet will be one of the primary catalysts for these advances by allowing scientists and doctors all over the world to communicate instantly and share their knowledge.
On a much more basic level, however, the Internet will affect how each and every one of us approaches healthcare. Traditionally, we got information about taking care of ourselves from our local medical doctors and other health practitioners like chiropractors, physical therapists, acupuncturists, etc. Unfortunately, no matter how caring and competent our local practitioners are, they can't possibly be fully up to date on the latest advances in medicine or the broad range of treatments and therapies available for every physical condition.
With the Internet, we now have an alternative source for health information. With hundreds of online discussion groups and health-related Web sites, covering almost every conceivable topic, anyone can log on and get answers, or at least be pointed in the right direction.
In the January 1999 issue of bLink, I mentioned a great example of this in the LaGrow family, EarthLink members who contacted us to let us know that the Internet changed their lives. The LaGrows had a young daughter who gradually lost her ability to walk and became wheelchair-bound. For years they went to specialists who could give them no diagnosis. When they finally did receive a diagnosis—a rare disease called dystonia—there was no hope of a cure, until they turned to the Internet. Searching the Net, they found not only Web sites discussing their daughter's disease, but learned about a conference of medical professionals and dystonia patients. A few months later, they found a local specialist to help them—and they found a seemingly miraculous treatment. Within 24 hours of beginning the treatment, their daughter was walking on her own again.
The LaGrows are the perfect example of a movement gaining momentum every day online. This movement toward Internet self-help doesn't mean that the Internet will replace the local practitioner—quite the contrary. The Internet will be a valuable resource for local practitioners. But it does mean that patients (healthcare customers) now have the ability to become better informed and to demand that their health practitioners are, too. Ultimately, this should raise the quality of treatment at all levels.
In a very real way, the Internet puts YOUR health under YOUR control. Anyone can use it to find helpful people and essential information that might be difficult, if not impossible, to find through other means.
As you begin to explore the Internet health resources offered in this issue (or those you've discovered on your own), keep in mind that these resources may seem a little overwhelming at first. There is so much material available. You can literally get information from every possible perspective and every possible healing practice. As individuals and patients, we must balance this great flood of information by taking the time to inform ourselves thoroughly. As I've said before, the Net is a bit like the Wild West. It's not terribly well-regulated or neatly laid out, and it's up to us, as Internet users, to judge the worth of the information we find. But as the LaGrows discovered, the effort spent can bring great, lifelong rewards.
Remember also that the more each of us makes use of and contributes to Internet health resources (through personal Web sites, message board postings, etc.), the more we will help drive the great medical advances which are already on the horizon. With people all over the world searching for truly workable health solutions, the methods that do work, and the doctors and other practitioners who are successful, will become broadly known—not merely those already inside the healthcare establishment. As recognition of these people and methods spreads, they will begin to influence the way everyone thinks of healthcare and they will spur on the researchers who are working for a brighter future.
Here's to your health!