Simon Stevens' Five year forward plan for the NHS mentions people making more use of web based health information as an alternative to a visit to the GP or A and E ("Build the public’s understanding that pharmacies and on-line resources can help them deal with coughs, colds and other minor ailments without the need for a GP appointment or A&E visit." - http://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/futurenhs/5yfv-ch3/, Box 3.1).
This could help some people avoid having to use hospitals, unless they need to hear something from a health professional rather than read it. But perhaps if people knew how to find and appraise web based information, they would feel more confident in their own discoveries and more confident in the advice they have read, and not want to get professional input. And they could look for information to add to information they have received from a health professional.
There's an interesting potential role for health information professionals in this task of building understanding that online resources are an alternative to securing and sitting waiting for an appointment, or waiting in A and E. Could we work with the NHS or with patient organisations to help people to realise that online resources are useful, and how to find material you can trust?
On Facebook recently, two people I know have reported family health problems, both with children. Should I have offered some information? Or is that presumptuous, as I don't really know the whole story. In fact, in one case, I did, as it was something we had encountered in our family and there was information we had looked at. I had known that information was reliable (it was from NHS Choices) and we had found it useful. The other case was nothing we had encountered, and so I did not offer anything. You cannot possibly get the whole story on Facebook, although maybe I assumed in the first case that because we knew about the condition, we did have the full story.
And is there a potential role for health information professionals in "training" people in general, perhaps patient groups (who might be receptive to the idea of web based information, and already be doing it), or community groups? I imagine those groups themselves are already offering support in finding information, or actually providing trustworthy information, and some have health information professionals working for them, but perhaps others of us can offer our skills.
NHS Choices Information Prescriptions is an interesting service for all sorts of conditions - enter a condition and a postcode and receive information about the condition and local services.