lost at seaDo your patients get the most out of the internet when it comes to caring for themselves? Let’s talk about how YOU can direct them to useful websites so they don’t get swallowed in a Google of information.

Working with patients to engage in self-management of their chronic illness is one of the biggest challenges to health care providers today. Those patients who self-educate and work toward self-management have better outcomes and more control over the symptoms of their chronic illnesses, but the question remains, “How do you get a patient to educate themselves and be more knowledgeable about their illness?” In the last decade, the Internet has provided powerful tools for patients to engage in self-management and this blog post will highlight just a few user-friendly sites toward which you may direct your patients. If you can direct a patient to a specific site, they may feel less overwhelmed and more inclined to research on their own.

Below I describe two sites (one disease-specific and one for overall health) that are filled with current and reputable material.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (or COPD) affects 6.3% of the United States population. A set of resources, provided by the COPD Foundation (http://www.copdfoundation.org), is available now for you to give your patients. If you have patients who prefer to read, watch, or interact with health education materials, the COPD Foundation has provided material in each way. For example, do you have patients who respond to being given paper in their hand to read? Try printing and handing out the Slim Skinny Reference Guide (http://www.copdfoundation.org/Learn-More/Educational-Materials/Downloads.aspx#SSRG), available in ten languages, to address ten of the most popular topics in COPD care such as, medicines, oxygen therapy, and exercise.  Do you have patients waiting in a room where you can show videos? Try giving them the option to view videos (http://www.copdfoundation.org/Learn-More/For-Patients-Caregivers/Educational-Video-Series.aspx) to educate themselves about COPD with lung illustrations and explanations of the limitations that come with the illness. One of the keys to patient engagement includes leading them to interesting and easy-to-use resources. The COPD Foundation provides resources that are visually appealing and patient-centered.

Another useful site for self-management of disease is provided free of charge, in many languages, and in many modes (i.e. print and video) by the US government. This website is called MedlinePlus (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus). In the center of the home page is a tab titled “seniors,” where you can direct your patients to self-educate on popular topics such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Arthritis, Exercise for Seniors, Medicare, Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage, Nutrition for Seniors, and Skin Aging. Click on “Skin Aging,” for example, and a “Start Here” button appears beneath the introduction as a good starting point for a patient. Or, scroll to the bottom for a list of patient handouts available in English and Spanish. MedlinePlus provides videos, interactive tools, and handouts in multiple languages and for many age groups including seniors.

The world wide web is a giant sea of information that can be vetted by health care providers and passed on to patients to help them engage in self-management of their illness.

What are some of your favorite websites to direct patients?

Please share them and discuss below under Comments or join us online for our Weekly Discussion on Aging (http://slurl.com/secondlife/UTMB%20Island%20Alpha/143/227/26).

Our guest blogger this week is Meredith Masel, PhD, MSW. She is at the Oliver Center for Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare.

Image Source: http://jackbrummet.blogspot.com/2012/01/poem-lost-at-sea.html

Alzheimer’s disease is the dark cloud on the horizon and it has no silver lining. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and no way of preventing it. Well, that’s true for now and it may not always be so.  Twenty-five years ago there were no cures for AIDS, still are no cures, but people with AIDS can lead long and productive lives with the aid of current medical therapies. Perhaps Alzheimer’s disease will suffer a similar fate and we will either find a cure or a way to reduce it’s effects so that I can still write this column and make films.

Cheshire Cat

Some new insights are coming along for treating Alzheimer’s disease by looking at gene mutations or simply patterns of genes. For example, some forms of lung cancer will respond to a specific drug if the patient has a particular mutation (Gardner). Also, a screening test called Oncotype Dx can help decide against radiation therapy in addition to surgery for women diagnosed with a form of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (Park). This also carries over into Alzheimer’s disease. Recent work appears to show that an abnormal protein, beta amyloid, could be a marker for future development of Alzheimer’s disease (Lazar)

Citing this work, Sperling, Jack & Aisen content that we need to learn how to identify people before the onset of symptoms and begin treatments. They wish to study the effect of drugs that lower this particular protein in people with the abnormality to see if Alzheimer’s disease can be prevented. Further, they assert that studying people with Alzheimer’s disease is too late to really do any good. They state, “Converging evidence suggests that the pathophysiological process of AD begins many years before the onset of dementia. So why do we keep testing drugs aimed at the initial stages of the disease process in patients at the end-stage of the illness?”

It’s a problem that needs to be treated before it appears. An interesting problem. Sort of like Schrödinger’s cat (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schrödinger’s_cat).



Gardner, A. Gene mutation improves response to lung cancer, US News, 8-19-2009. http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/cancer/articles/2009/08/19/gene-mutation-improves-response-to-lung-cancer-drug.

Lazar, K. Alzheimer’s study probes drug to cut brain protein, Austin American Statesman, 12-2-2011, p. A25.

Park, A. Decoding breast cancer, Time, 12-19-2011, p. 26.

Sperling, RA, Jack, CR & Aisen, PS. Testing the Right Target and Right Drug at the Right Stage, Science Translational Medicine, 2011, 3(111), p. 111cm33.

Image: The cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland drawn by John Tenniel (1820-1914) in the 1866 edition. In the public domain.