Doctor Google – How trustworthy is online medical care? (Article in Vitaya)

24 June, 2015

The digital help increasing

The Drug-line launched a chat service last year, the Suicide-line starts e-mail help this year. Those with gambling issues can address this issue via a website made for this, including an automated self-help program. And the Centers for General Healthcare also are providing chat buttons in order to first contact a healthcare provider online. Online healthcare is growing, that much is clear. “Not so surprising”, Philip Bocklandt, lecturer and researcher at the Artevelde College – Social Work, and author of the book Not all smileys laugh, says. Online help in first-line healthcare provision. “We communicate more and more online. We use Facebook, use pc-banking, book our trips online, go shopping online… If they want to keep reaching people, healthcare also has to be active online.”

Anonymous online

Online healthcare has grown a lot in Flanders in the last years, both in provision and reach thereof. “The largest advantage is the anonymity”, Bocklandt says. “People who do not dare to take the step toward healthcare, do dare to talk about their issues online. It is remarkable how people find it much easier to reach the essence of their issue online. Furthermore, online help is available at any time and anywhere. You need not go anywhere, you do not need to take time off from work, and you can use it whenever  you want to do so. This makes it attractive, especially so for young or busy people. With online healthcare, a new target audience is reached. This can be seen in Tele-Onthaal: eighty percent of the people looking for help via the chat service are younger than forty. In people who look for contact by telephone, this number is only thirty percent.” Naught but positive factors are named here, however, this does not mean that online help can fully replace face-to-face help. “For some problems, there are entire online help programs, such as for alcoholism. For other issues, this is not as easy. If a fifteen year old uses the chat of Childfocus to talk about sexual abuse, one needs to go beyond simple online help. Contact with the healthcare provider remains important, but online help can definitely be a useful addition or play a supportive role.*

Talking to your pc

Psychotherapist Paul Koeck, too, is convinced of the usefulness of online help. Three years ago he launched 15Minutes4Me.com, an online self-help program against stress. “People who pick such a program make a clear choice: they want to do something about their problems, and preferably want to do so themselves. Being able to work at your own speed and without shame, is something which is very motivational. Furthermore, you can always take an extra step and look for guidance from a therapist. We constantly recommend people to visit their general practitioner outside of the online help. Because a good solution always is a mix of both factors.” How (non-)personal is it to talk about all your feelings to a computer screen? “In this self-help program there is nobody who reads and answers your questions – that would be impossible and way too expensive. But it is much more tailored to your needs than you would think. The system asks focused questions, meaning you can deal with your issues in a focused way. In the feedback which we get from our patients, we often read that they experience the therapy to be very personal. We also see that it simply works. Participants who follow the program, experienced an average stress reduction of 77% after just a month. This is a better result than that which is achieved in classic psychotherapy.

Read the full Dutch article (pdf): Vitaya – How trustworthy is online medical care?

About the writer
Dr. Paul Koeck, MD2
has his practice as a physician, stress counselor and therapist in Antwerp. As an author, he published a number of books and lectures, trainings and workshops in stress management, both for individuals and for companies, universities and governments. You can email him via the contact form.
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Date: June 24, 2015, Author: Dr. Paul Koeck, MD2