If you thought user-generated content was limited to the media and entertainment industries you’d be wrong. The medical industry has recently seen an outbreak of cancer videos, wellness wikis and bulimia blogs that borders on a epidemic. In many ways this is nothing new. Online support groups have been around for at least 15 years and the distribution of material related to specific medical conditions via physical meetings has been around much longer than that. What is changing is content. The reason for this shift is pretty straightforward. Increasing connectivity allows patients to access what other people think and feel and tools for creating and filtering content are more widely available and easier to use. Add to this the popularity of Web 2.0 or user-generated and user-filtered sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Wikipedia and it’s easy to see why some people are getting very excited about the prospects for ‘Health 2.0’. Moreover, user-generated content allows patients to control their own destiny and not be beholden to medical professions, many of whom are themselves suffering from information fatigue caused by the sheer amount of medical information now being created and distributed through more traditional channels.
But does user-generated medical content really have a future? On the one hand, you’d think that privacy issues alone would prevent any meaningful exchange of knowledge but this doesn’t seem to be an issue. Equally, you might suspect that the information itself would be unreliable, or even harmful, but a study in the British Medical Journal found that just 6% of such information was factually inaccurate. According to Jupiter Research, 20% of US Internet users have now generated some kind of health-related information for the Internet and according to a PEW Internet & American Life study almost 1/3 of the 100 million Americans that have used the web to find medical information say that such information has been helpful.