I am an avid triathlete and have observed Lance Armstrong’s career with interest. His athletic ability and his work ethic are unquestionable. And regardless of his athletic endeavors and the recent charges put forth by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, he has made an impact. He has brought global awareness to the fight against cancer via the Livestrong Foundation. In fifteen years, the foundation has raised nearly half a billion dollars.
Lance is also a patient advocate. As a Stage 3 cancer survivor, he has spent over a decade developing the resources cancer patients should have access to; and through his foundation, which provides support, information, and resources across a plethora of mediums – including websites, mobile platforms, Apps, events, etc. However, after bowing in “defeat” to the USADA, his reputation – and trust – is now tarnished. Needless to say his legacy as a philanthropist is not in question, but his personal moral and ethical values are. Which leads me to the question – when it comes to healthcare content on the web, who can you trust?
Most people, including patients and caregivers, seek out information relative to their healthcare decisions. And many continue to turn to online and social sources for information they deem as “trustworthy”. According to a 2012 PwC Report “Social media likes healthcare”, 42% of consumers have used social media to access health-related consumer reviews. And, according to a Pew Internet Research Report on “The Social Life of Health”, 80% of Internet users have looked online for information about health topics such as a specific disease or treatment. This signifies a huge ocean of information from which people are making “informed” decisions. But, can you really trust the review of a local physician on Yelp or the results of a clinical trial from a peer on PatientsLikeMe? If a physician has only two reviews on a directory management site, both of who had a poor experience (so they say) which leads to a less than favorable rating, does that discredit the physician’s ability as a practitioner? And, on treatment and condition websites (which are numerous), can you trust the validity of the information provided? In general terms, most of these sites, because of the active participation of their users, appear to publish reliable information.
As more people “socialize” their decisions about their own healthcare (that is to say, they post a review on social, content, or directory management websites), the more potential it has to “influence an opinion” of others seeking information. The question always is, what is the reliability of that information? As business executives, we know what sources of information we can trust when it comes to our trade. Whether it’s the Georgia Hospital Association, HIMSS, SHSMD, HFMA, etc., these resource groups serve to provide credible and relevant information from which we can make informed decisions. But that is not always the case with peer review sites, or even websites that claim to provide current health related content. It is up to the patient, their physician(s), and caregiver(s) to ultimately decide what is best for them based upon the aggregate of resources available.
Which brings me back to Lance. As a result of the accusations of doping against Armstrong, do we now not “trust” the information and resources provided on Livestrong.org, his foundation’s website? While his personal credibility is up for discussion, the vast resources he has built for the cancer community remain intact. Because, Livestrong, the Foundation, has built its reputation as a credible source. And for that, we can be grateful.