Health information professionals – do we need them?

Events in the past few days have made me re-think some of my ideas about access to information, particularly health information.

Just because the Internet and other sources provide access to information, is this enough? For example, in my PhD work, I’m constantly searching for information. As a result, I’m at an advantage when compared with the average person, and yet I find myself challenged to find the information that I want. Google and other Internet search engines have made information much easier to find, but it’s still not enough. When I’m serious about finding good quality information, I revert back to the academic databases like Medline to get to the information. Pubmed is great for quick searches, but for any “serious” research, I wouldn’t recommend it.

While providing access to information is great, what about helping people understand it? I’ve been very impressed by the work done on Wikipedia – a free online encyclopedia. I first heard about wikis almost two years ago, and I’ve been amazed at the rapid growth of this particular project. Wikipedia is pretty good at writing in clear language that’s fairly easy to understand.

Okay, so what about the relation to health and ehealth? Well, I’m revisiting the idea of paid health information professionals. I know that the NHS toyed with the idea in some discussion papers a few years back, but I haven’t heard anything about it since. What about having paid professionals search for and interpret health information for people? How would that change the way the health system operates? Here’s the ultimate test: would I pay for these services? I’m not sure.