Closing the Health Gap Online

Updated on April 20, 2011

By Jerry Levin

For all of us — young, old, and those in the middle — life is simply an interlude between doctors’ visits.  This perspective, while obvious, perennially stays beneath our consciousness since we are consumed by the daily pursuit of personal identity as if our mind-body-and-spirit were to function without incident and without end.  More powerfully of late is the recognition that the explosive neglect of mental health issues has led to the horror of deadly violence—so massively played out recently in Arizona.  In my own family, we have witnessed the tragic consequences of unattended drug addiction.

On a national level, as we have engaged in a heated debate about legislating health care, my greatest fear is that we have lost focus on the ability of an individual to take control of his or her own health and wellness. Now is the time for us to transform the conversation from one about ‘healthcare’ to the far more personal issue of an individual’s own ‘health’.

Clearly we have reached an inflection point in our quest to improve healthcare. Empowering people to control their own health and wellness destinies may be the most important way to create greater efficiencies in the healthcare system and help drive down the spread of excessive costs.  In fact, one of the most important parts of a renewed personal investment in healthcare are the real benefits associated with preventive measures like sound nutrition, frequent exercise, stress reduction and regular medical visits.

We can also see that the Internet is revolutionizing people’s ability to take charge of their physical and mental health.  Sparkling advances in social media and mobile technologies have shifted the paradigm for consuming health information online and have created a “new bedside manner” for health practitioners.  Doctors and other medical experts now actively participate on Facebook and Twitter, on personal blogs and through many other online interactions—empowering patients with more knowledge and understanding at their fingertips than ever before.

While the number of health experts online is still relatively small, it is growing every day as more doctors view their online presence as an extension of their professional reputation.  A recent Manhattan Research survey of U.S. physicians showed an increase in Internet usage for professional purposes up from 2.5 hours per week in 2002 to 8 hours per week in 2010.

This is reminiscent of the early days of television when we heard arguments that the new screen would deaden human emotion and personal connection.  We hear echoes of this same concern for the generation growing up with the Internet.  Yet today’s children are still raised with a mother’s touch and a father’s care, and they play with each other with the same joy that we experienced; however, they also enjoy the enormous value of having the Internet in the classroom as digital technology is providing a gateway to greater learning and self-realization.  Rather than diminishing human connection, technological innovation and the Internet have the power to bring the world together and improve countless lives.

Indeed the pace of change wrought by the Internet is breathtaking.  According to Google’s Eric Schmidt, we now create as much information every two days as we did between the dawn of civilization up until the year 2003.  Moreover, Pew Research has reported that searching for health information ranks among the top three Web activities across generations.  The most significant way to utilize this wealth of available information is to encourage innovation in online health technology with the mission of elevating the standard of care and closing the gap that exists between a doctor visit and an Internet search—where people are left alone with only an empty search box and their own unmet anxieties.

We are on the cusp of vastly improving the overall level of health and wellness knowledge in this country by using the Internet to cultivate a new generation of highly informed patients.  It is clear that the more understanding patients have, both before and after a doctor visit, the more efficient our healthcare delivery system will be.  With a commitment to better understanding of ourselves and our own bodies, we can take control of our personal health, live a more fulfilling existence and advance in the pursuit of real happiness.

Jerry Levin, former Chairman and CEO of Time Warner, is the Presiding Director of Moonview Sanctuary and a Board Member and Investor for

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