Borne out of the CERN physics lab 20 years ago today, the World Wide Web created by Tim Berners-Lee has forever altered human communication. By launching an open source, royalty-free, decentralized technology Berners-Lee and CERN connected the globe and unwittingly launched a billion LOLcats.
Since the beginning, the web has been the key way to share scientific information, and medical information has both benefited and been hampered by that.
The web’s presence in medicine is not without pitfalls, primarily through how easily misinformation can spread. There's the problem of self-diagnosis; with every possible disease and symptom catalogued online it’s possible for non-medically trained laypeople to over-diagnosis themselves based on a reference to an obscure disease.
Worse than the perils of self-diagnosis is the way disinformation about the efficacy and safety of modern medicine can spread: for a recent example, Wales is seeing the worst outbreak of measles in 20 years due to pervasive fear of vaccines stemming from a study found to be fraudulent and published over a decade ago. Pseudoscientific claims and folk remedies can flourish in social media circles: anecdotes grow into practices.
Despite this, the web remains open to a huge potential to change lives around the world. The current renaissance in health care is growing like a healthy plant in the web's fertile soil. Consider these examples:
• The relative affordability of cell phones has the potential to change health communication in remote areas.
• Using online tech, cell phones can provide diagnoses in parts of impoverished countries.
• Social media allows people living with various challenges, such as IBD, to find each other to share resources.
• Doctor's resources can draw from hundreds of sources, and put them in touch with a wealth of information previously available in medical libraries and journal subscriptions.
All of the above technologies rely on the internet to gather and share data for the healthcare professional and patient to make decisions. No doubt, there is work to be done. Here at INVIVO, we're proud of the work we've done aiding patient adherence, educating HCPs, and helping people in medicine learn through games, made possible by the decision 20 years ago today by CERN and Berners-Lee to allow people to connect with to each other. To the World Wide Web – Happy Birthday!
*As is typical online, INVIVO cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information at the links in this editorial post.