Online services help patients deal with their illness and connect with others

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The New York Times today highlighted how useful online services have been to patients, both in managing how they feel as well as connecting with their loved ones.

The services highlighted ones devoted specifically to the needs of seriously ill, often hospitalized or otherwise terminally ill patients. These folks are walking such a difficult road, that it helps them to write down how they're feeling. Not only does it provide friends & family an easier way to keep up with their treatment, many also choose to make their writings public to the whole internet and welcome in others in hope that they'll find useful information about dealing with a particular illness.

Companies highlighted included ones focused on cancer such as for-profit CarePages, and non-profit CaringBridge. TheStatus hosts diaries of patients afflicted with many different diseases. These services provide patients with private journals, or allow them to interact with others by making their writing public, connecting them with others interested in how to manage that illness.

In this way, these services can be seen as an illness-focused version of the larger online movements to share with others: weblogs and forums. Weblogs are the accounts of a particular writer, called a blogger, and can be private or public. In fact, you're reading one now. Bloggers often delve into their illnesses since it's just another important part of their lives they'd like to share. Forums are online services where writing on specific topics are collected, rather than focused on the writing of a single author like blogs. Both of these online forms of expression have had explosive amounts of interest with many millions of users sharing their stories.

The process of expressing a difficult event such as serious illness is assisted incredibly when a patient feels useful, understood and loved. In one way, patients feel their stories help others, just as if they were participating in a clinical trial of an experimental medication or treatment. And even if they choose to make their writings private, their loved ones can better support them the more they understand how the patient is doing.

Cheers to these online communities! I'm excited about them, and although I'd never wish you ill, if you do become seriously ill, take a look and see if one of these kinds of services can help you.

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About the Author


MD, FACP, FASN

Dr. Schwimmer's blog explores the intersection of medicine, new technologies, and the Internet.

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