One of the most obvious means for bridging the gap between bench and bedside is the social Internet, also known as Web 2.0. As web services devoted to medical therapies figure more prominently in patients' lives, the ways in which we deliver patient care is in the process of being altered in fundamental ways. Web 2.0 medical sites improve patient care in several key respects: facilitating doctor-doctor interaction, keeping a record of patient progress, and bringing to light the need for urgent care between routine doctors' visits. New and easy-to-use patient-centric informational resources also now offer basic medical information on demand as well as advanced medical information for those capable of assimilating it.
Web 2.0 is also shifting the nature of research. The commercial site PatientsLikeMe.com data-mines patient reports on behalf of pharmaceutical manufacturers. Non-profits like Autoimmunity Research FoundationNon-profit foundation dedicated to exploring a pathogenesis and therapy for chronic disease. use patient self-reports to improve the clarity and substance of treatment guidelines, and to qualitatively assess how a treatment under study affects different disease states.
The primary deficiencies of web-based patient reporting include issues related to anonymity, lack of accountability, and, when rigorous studies are being contemplated, subject pool contamination bias. Managing these liabilities requires clear communication of the limitations of and expectations for web-based platforms.
While these challenges need to be overcome, virtual communities offer viable methods for encouraging treatment compliance, recruiting participants, and present a new opportunity for discoveries to quickly transition from bench to bedside.