The authors argue that "a major system upgrade" in our thinking is needed, in which e-patients are recognised as a valuable resource that could provide sustainable healthcare solutions.
About half of adults in the United States have looked for health information on the net, yet many clinicians underestimate the benefits and overestimate the risks of online health resources for patients, write Tom Ferguson and Gilles Frydman.
Reports of patients coming to harm as the result of online advice are rare, whereas accounts of those who have obtained better care, averted medical mistakes, or saved their own lives are common.
Medical online support groups have also become an important healthcare resource, while the net friendliness of clinicians and provider organisations is becoming an important new aspect of health care quality, they add.
E-health researchers should realise that we are witnessing the most important techno-cultural medical revolution of the past century, say the authors.
They conclude: "Something akin to a major system upgrade in our thinking is needed. A new cultural operating system for health care in which e-patients can be recognised as a valuable new type of renewable resource - managing much of their own care, providing care for others, helping professionals improve the quality of their services, and participating in collaborations between patients and professionals."