It's difficult to predict if and how the outcome of laws governing net neutrality could impact health care, but there are concerns on both sides.
The internet has become a mainstay of our world, and is among the most influential sources of information when it comes to health. The recent discussion about net neutrality raises a number of issues that encompass the concepts of government meddling, freedom of information and big business controlling public information. It is difficult to predict if and how the outcome of laws governing net neutrality could impact health care, but there are concerns on both sides.
One of the main principles of net neutrality is that internet service providers are not permitted to charge more for more favorable internet functionality. This means that net neutrality prevents websites from being able to pay for the ability to load faster and more efficient than others, essentially buying superior user experience. If this improved function can be bought, proponents of net neutrality argue, content providers that can afford to pay more for better functionality and visibility have an advantage over those who do not have the means to pay.
When it comes to healthcare, powerful corporations could have an upper hand in controlling information, potentially selling people on the idea that certain products or procedures are advantageous simply because they can pay for better Internet user experience. Small medical practices that do not have generous marketing funds could see their online presence pushed into oblivion when large institutions can pay for better visibility.
On the other hand, some view net neutrality as an example of the type of government overreach that inhibits healthy competition. Many fear that if the government is in charge of enforcing net neutrality, the government itself could ultimately wield too much control over the content seen on the internet.
Popularity vs. Accuracy
In the world of healthcare, those against net neutrality could argue that popular pseudoscience from dubious sources has a tendency to ‘go viral.’ In these instances, the expectations of the checks and balances that govern legitimate businesses would be squeezed out when outrageous claims receive more attention than less exciting, and verified scientific facts. The fear is that when popularity is the only driver of content, the results would be harmful to the public in the long run.
Physicians As Trusted Sources Of Information
Doctors who build a consistent and caring connection with patients can be the most trusted resources when it comes to health and wellness. In fact, most patients like to ‘fact check’ the internet by running things past their doctor — and also to ‘fact check’ the doctor by confirming the physician’s advice on the internet. Having our advice double checked by patients is completely understandable, and should not be viewed as a threat or a lack of confidence in the physician’s advice. The key for us as physicians is to be able to listen to patients online information without judgment and to pay attention to where information is coming from because whether we have net neutrality or not, the internet is here to stay.