Advances in technology are changing almost every facet of US life including how Americans shop, bank and even elect their Presidents. This technology based transformation is now moving into the healthcare arena and has the potential to similarly transform Public Health. Recent research suggests that over 170 million people have used the internet to obtain health information, resources and supports, most often about behavioral and lifestyle related health issues. Also, the evidence suggests that, for the first time, more Americans are turning to electronic sources for health information and support than they are to healthcare providers. While the evidence indicates that, in the current healthcare system, about two thirds of Americans are either unable or unwilling to remain actively engaged in their healthcare, the statistics cited above support the fact that many individuals would like to engage more deeply and are actively seeking information and guidance with regards to healthcare from electronic and or online sources. In addition, early scientific research is indicating that at least some of these “Consumer Health Informatics” tools can significantly help improve select health outcomes among appropriate consumers. Finally with the elimination of aerial TV and the advent of digital TV, HDTV (High Definition TV), IPTV (Internet protocol TV) which is TV programming streamed directly over the internet to specific IP addresses, the lines of distinction between TV and the internet are beginning to blurr and the possibility of moving from passive TV watching to TV based interaction and communication is now a reality. By leveraging already existing vehicles and infrastructure for communication and interaction such as television and the internet, it may be possible to have a dramatic impact on consumer’s knowledge and behavior and therefore healthcare outcomes, by leveraging the benefits possible over the internet, to anyone, anywhere, who owns a TV.
According to the Nielson Company, the average American watches more than four hours of television each day (of two months of non-stop TV watching per year). Access to television is almost ubiquitous with 99% of American households having at least one television and the average household having more than two. Market research has long illustrated the effectiveness of media in influencing behavior and attitudes. The emergence of IPTV now makes it possible to broadcast specifically tailored, interactive programming to specific individuals who want or need it and can benefit from it most.
Because the infrastructure for TV and the Internet, is also the infrastructure for cell phones, healthcare and public health benefits realized over one modality can be leveraged across all three. An example of how cell phones may play a role can be seen in the Text4Baby program which provides pregnant women and new mothers personalized text messages, about prenatal and perinatal care, free of charge through their mobile devices. Since the initiation of this program, over 75,000 women across America have signed up to receive these messages. This program has gone so well that other nations have asked the U.S. for guidance to duplicate this initiative abroad. Clearly, TV, internet and mobile technology hold tremendous potential for providing an efficient, cost effective, scalable mechanism for enabling deeper consumer healthcare collaboration and engagement in ways that are patient centered, convenient and accessible to all. As such it could even eliminate certain access to "care" problems and therefore have tremendous potential for helping to adress healthcare disparities.