Irish Medical Times Article : Web surfers are now web authors

This was the title of the second of my series of articles on the Web2.0 space for the Irish Medical Times (2nd February edition). You can read the full piece here. It was actually due to be the first in the series, but still stands fine where it has been printed.

Update: The full article can now be read below.

Widely used by the teenage and young adult market worldwide, the Internet site YouTube allows the easy upload and sharing of video footage. In the same way that people send and share photographs to each other on their mobile phones, video can now be easily shared with others via the Internet.

The service has been at the end of a lot of negative comment in Ireland since its’ purchase by Google. As a result of this, a number of clips were removed – but not before they received thousands of more hits. In a deeply uncomfortable way, it highlighted the concept of user-generated content on the web.

This idea of user created content has crept up on us. In the early days of the web, companies, organisations and institutions created content. It was not very personal – apart from a geek minority that were happy to wield windows notepad or a web-authoring tool to build a web page.
Not only could this minority talk of their “e-mail address” but also of “their website”. Nowadays, the majority of post-primary school goers will have a website or personal webspace courtesy of Beebo or MySpace.
Blogging (covered in a February 2006 article) is the probably the best known of this genre of content.  Bloggers share their opinions and thoughts, link to other blogs and generally put forward their views through their writing. As a result, blogging probably makes up the majority of user-generated content that currently exists on the web.
Review and Recommendations
However, people also contribute in other online locations. In the same way that recommendations from friends and family are used in the real world, they are also used by retailers on the web as a mechanism of positive influence on prospective customers. Websites where holidaymakers have commented on resorts and their experiences of hotels and restaurants spring immediately to mind.
Or when you purchased those last minute items on Amazon for Christmas – books in particular – chances are you may have taken account of the reviews made by other customers, and recommendations made by the system, based on previous customer trends. In particular – “those that bought this also purchased this” – may have influenced your final decision.
So where does the medical world potentially collide with this idea of the social web and user created content? The most obvious recent spate has been the ratemyteacher.ie and rate-your-solicitor.com websites. Here, anybody can give scores and add comments; they are often controversial, and in the case of RateMySolicitor, currently the subject of a high court injunction.
Rate My Hospital 

Irish Health on the other hand has taken a different approach to the concept of rating with ratemyhospital.ie; Launched in the middle of September, they have collected over 3,500 submissions from the public. Twenty Likert scale questions gather an overall picture of a patient or visitor’s view of a hospital. Free text can be entered for outstanding service and general comments, but these are monitored for libellous remarks.
The questions range from topics such as car parking facilities to cleanliness, food, outpatients, child friendliness, waiting times and so on. Individual ratings are also given for the specialities practiced at each of the 53 public hospitals listed.
The problem with this idea of rating services is of course a simple one. It is a well-known fact that people will speak of bad experiences much more quickly than they will speak of good ones. If this view is also taken for online ratings, then those that are dissatisfied with a service will be more driven to make their voice heard.
The lesson for the medical community however is abundantly clear with the emergence of these types of forums. Patients are beginning to become more aware of how they can air grievances, heap praise or generally be proactive in their approach to commenting on medical services.
In the same way however, the healthcare community can also play a positive part in the interactions. For example on YouTube, more healthcare content is becoming available. The Builth & Llanwrtyd Medical Practice in rural Wales has made a number of introductory patient videos on topics such as flu vaccination and cervical screening.
Sceptics will point out that at this point in time, the amount of this type of quality content is quite low. They will also point out that the amount of time and effort required for such approaches to patient information and education is immense.
This may be the case, but as we will see in further columns relating to developments in this area of social applications and services – known commonly as Web 2.0 – the medical world should be aware of the trends and technologies that are currently driving the development of the online world at a terrific pace.

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About Kevin Peyton

Creative Director @ Electric Mill. WordPress solution provider. Collector of retro home computers.
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