The moment you enter the Net for reasons you know, you pin an added
badge to your personal profile – that of being an ‘internet user’. With the Net becoming a familiar fabric of our personal and social lives, we also wonder about its promises and pitfalls, no less for the cancer community. The basic question could kick-off from the issue of quantity: How many cancer patients are broadly considered as internet users?
Dr. Gunther Eysenbach, Senior Scientist at the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation in Toronto, in his keynote address at the Cancer and Internet conference in New York, had initially provided a mental map of these immense, intersecting worlds. After a comprehensive review of studies, he came up with an estimate in the developed world alone – “39% of persons with cancer use the internet,” and approximately “2.3 million persons living with cancer worldwide are online.” Here are some salient points of his review of those studies:
- The internet is the second most important source of information after health professionals
- A large percentage of patients’ companions are considered ‘indirect users’
- Patients are bent to communicate to their physicians through email with physicians less willing to do the same for a number of reasons including time, legal liability, confidentiality, and reimbursement issues
- Virtual communities have the most impact on cancer patients, yet the balance between its advantages and disadvantages leave room for further studies; surveys, however, show an increasing number of persons with cancer participating in online communities especially when support is both intentional and renders a positive effect
Trend does not imply quality, efficiency, or efficacy. Internet information on cancer, for example, has both its lights and shadows from the compass point of accuracy and credibility. Nonetheless, the opportunity to cyber-connect with appropriate human feeling seems in accord with our basic human longing for connection. I assume that even cancer survivors in the developing worlds, in the absence of access to technology, know this human hunger.
It is insightful of Dr. Eysenbach to cite that “most spam messages actually refer to health-related issues” including vitamins and Viagra. Spams account for 40% of all email messages. So if you happen to receive one of those augmenting, whitening, enlarging endorsements, it is a sure sign of inclusion within the partly annoying world of health data exchange.