Editor’s Note: Health Affairs is proud to be a media partner for the Health 2.0 Meets Ix conference, which will take place April 22 and 23 in Boston, Massachusetts. As part of the lead-up to the conference, which will focus on the interplay between the Health 2.0 and information therapy (Ix) movements, Health Affairs Blog and other participating blogs will feature a series of posts discussing ideas that will be featured at the conference.

The most recent post in the series, by Jay Parkinson, addressed the question: Does the rise of Ix mean that physicians are captains of a wider care team, or does the rise of Health 2.0 mean that doctors find that their roles in patient care are increasingly marginalized? The post below by Susannah Fox provides a different take on physician-patient relationships in the new era. Earlier posts by Rushika Fernandopulle and John Halamka discussed building Health 2.0 and Ix into the delivery system. Parkinson, Fernandopulle, and Halamka will participate in debates on their topics in Boston.

The first post in the series described the background and main themes of the Health 2.0 and Ix movements.

More than half of the entire adult population in the U.S. used the internet to get involved in the 2008 political process. Blogs, social networking sites, video clips, and plain old email were all used to gather and share political information by what Lee Rainie has dubbed a new “participatory class”:

  • 18% of internet users posted comments about the campaign on a blog or social networking site.
  • 45% of internet users went online to watch a video related to the campaign.
  • Half of online political news consumers took advantage of the “long tail” of election coverage, visiting five or more types of online news sites.

And guess what? This participatory class of citizen is not ready to go back in the box. Many people expect to stay engaged with the Obama administration and you can bet that the rise of mobile applications will accelerate this trend toward engagement for lots of Americans.

My new survey data shows that not only is there a participatory class of citizen, but there is a participatory class of patient. Most people with a health question want to consult a health professional – no news there. Second most popular choice: friends and family. Third choice: the internet and books (yes, books are still popular, even among internet users!).

But participatory patients (aka, e-patients) are using the internet in new ways. They not only gather information, but seek out expert opinions, such as the “just in time someone like me” who holds the key to their situation. This participatory class is reading blogs, listening to podcasts, updating their social network profile, watching videos, and posting comments. Technology is not an end, but a means to accelerate the pace of discovery, widen social networks, and sharpen the questions someone might ask when they do get to talk to a health professional.

GenY and GenX internet users are the most likely groups to be turning up the network volume in health care, but I’m betting that no e-patient of any age is going back in the box.