Tuesday, March 08, 2005

How much is Too much?

Over at California Medicine Man, several of us folks are having a mini-debate about how helpful it is for patients to research their medical conditions and treatment.
I’ve long been a proponent of consumer-driven health care, which has come to mean different things to different people. In my neck of the woods, CDHC means coupling high deductible health plans with tax-advantaged savings accounts, thereby empowering the insured/patient with the financial ability to make informed health care decisions. Implicit in this concept is the idea that, once empowered, the insured/patient will want to make the most cost-efficient decision, and will seek out as much information as possible in order to do so.
From where will this information come? Well, a variety of sources. First and foremost, the patient should be willing and able to ask the provider whether or not a given course of treatment is necessary, or whether there are more cost-effective measures that can be taken. Another resource would be, of course, the internet. Still another would be the myriad of “self-help” books about medicine in general, and a given condition in particular.
This in turn leads to other questions: How will the provider respond? How will a patient/insured know what questions to even ask? Given the ofttimes overwhelming amount of information available on the web, how does one determine what’s true and what’s not? In short, how much information is too much?
It seems to me that an educated consumer is a happier and healthier consumer. But there must be some line that, once crossed, leads to a diminishing understanding of the condition or treatment at hand. Certainly, it’s helpful – and important – to ask the provider about alternative protocols. And I think that places like WebMD can be helpful for superficial information. But I’m less certain about how much deeper one should go in such research. At some point, I think this will lead to information overload, and the insured/patient may ultimately be so confused that he chooses to do nothing.
And that is NOT “a good thing.”
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