In an afternoon session, titled Empowering Millions of Health Conscious Consumers, the top doctor at WebMD, the widely recognized health care information company, guided attendees on how to drive today’s health care conversation. It seems WebMD, the leading health and wellness site, knows a thing or two about today’s health conscious consumer, according to John Whyte, MD, MPH, and chief medical officer for WebMD. The highly successful website boasts some impressive metrics:

1 in 4
U.S. adults use WebMD each month

#1 in Engagement
780 Million Page Views

#1 Reach
of the top 50 diagnosed conditions, including eyecare

Whyte said that WebMD research revealed that the company is reaching “a proactive eye health audience with some 76 percent of respondents managing their eyecare through office visits while 73 percent of those surveyed said they are proactive about addressing their eye health.

“We have also found that women search online about health issues more often than men and a majority of them return to WebMD for continued support,” Whyte said.

WebMD’s John Whyte, MD.
The Changing Health Care Consumer
Whyte explained that as the health care landscape is changing, so are patient expectations. He identified several key factors that are influencing today’s health care consumer, such as 24/7 access to information, rising health care costs and the shift to value-based care.

“WebMD’s mission is to enable people to live better lives by empowering decisions and actions that improve their well-being and health outcomes. We see that the consumer is changing. They want 24-hour access to information. And with rising health care costs we’ve seen a shift to value-based care. Today, technology is shortening the path to care and the rate of medical knowledge is increasing among patients.”

The patient’s thirst for knowledge is growing, partly because today’s health care consumer is more connected to technology than ever before, he said. Some 77 percent of consumers turn to websites such as WebMD for health information and research. “Online health information sites help patients and caregivers stay better informed. We have to recognize that it’s a factor—patients are going to research their health issues before they even make that doctor visit,” he said.

This has resulted in an evolving digital landscape that includes use of an iPhone, social media sites and electronic assistants such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa.

Convergence of Health Care and Retail
Not only are consumers arming themselves with knowledge, they are wearing a Do It Yourself (DIY) hat as well, all in an effort to improve their health outcomes. DIY eye exams help diagnose conditions such as color blindness, astigmatism and abnormalities in depth perception, Whyte said.

Technology is also working as a way to warn consumers if certain serious conditions warrant immediate medical attention. An EKG watch won’t necessarily tell you if you are having a heart attack but it can alert patients to seek medical attention, he said. And for those who experience seizures, the Embrace Watch for epilepsy will warn patients that a seizure is imminent, giving them time to pull off the road if they’re driving.

These aids are “not meant to remove the health care provider,” Whyte stressed. Digital health and medicine are beginning to meet in the middle. “Telemedicine originally came about to reach people in rural areas, but today it is growing in urban cities,” he said. Rather than waiting for a doctor’s appointment, patients are using telemedicine to “meet” with their doctors, and even chatbots, to help diagnose their ailments.

How Do We Evolve?
In short, it is becoming more and more apparent that consumers want more control when it comes to their health information/diagnosis and treatments. But a challenge arises—how can patients ensure the information is credible when they are searching health care? Whyte pointed to “Personalized Health Assessments—a customized evaluation that empowers consumers to better understand their health and take action,” he said. For example, WebMD offers patients Doctor Discussion Guides, providing patients with talking points to help them prepare for doctors’ visits 30 days before an appointment.

— Mary Kane, Executive Editor

This video includes highlights of the following Summit speakers: Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, THINK-Health and Health Populi; WebMD’s John Whyte, MD; Roger Smith, AdventHealth Nicholson Center; Justine Santa Cruz, Satisfi Labs; Amy Heymans, Mad*Pow; John Ryan, UnitedHealthcare Vision; and Dave Bovenschulte, Klick Health.