When patients need health information to manage their personal health, they turn to both health professionals and other patients. Yet, we know little about how the information exchanged among patients (ie, patient expertise) contrasts with the information offered by health professionals (ie, clinician expertise). Understanding how patients’ experiential expertise contrasts with the medical expertise of health professionals is necessary to inform the design of peer-support tools that meet patients’ needs, particularly with the growing prevalence of largely unguided advice sharing through Internet-based social software.
The objective of our study was to enhance our understanding of patient expertise and to inform the design of peer-support tools. We compared the characteristics of patient expertise with that of clinician expertise for breast cancer.
Through a comparative content analysis of topics discussed and recommendations offered in Internet message boards and books, we contrasted the topic, form, and style of expertise shared in sources of patient expertise with sources of clinician expertise.
Patient expertise focused on strategies for coping with day-to-day personal health issues gained through trial and error of the lived experience; thus, it was predominately personal in topic. It offered a wealth of actionable advice that was frequently expressed through the narrative style of personal stories about managing responsibilities and activities associated with family, friends, work, and the home during illness. In contrast, clinician expertise was carried through a prescriptive style and focused on explicit facts and opinions that tied closely to the health care delivery system, biomedical research, and health professionals’ work. These differences were significant between sources of patient expertise and sources of clinician expertise in topic (P < .001), form (P < .001), and style (P < .001).
Patients offer other patients substantial expertise that differs significantly from the expertise offered by health professionals. Our findings suggest that experienced patients do not necessarily serve as “amateur doctors” who offer more accessible but less comprehensive or detailed medical information. Rather, they offer valuable personal information that clinicians cannot necessarily provide. The characteristics of patient expertise and the resulting design implications that we identified will help informaticians enhance the design of peer-support tools that will help meet patients’ diverse information needs.
Hartzler A, Pratt W. Managing the personal side of health: how patient expertise differs from the expertise of clinicians. J. Med. Internet Res. 2011 Aug 16;13(3):e62.