(Not) a tangled Web: Internet is powerful online tool for patient education

June 1, 2008

Every dermatology practices could use a good Web site - and one that provides timely, accurate educational information for patients would be a boon. One enterprising practitioner saw the need, and developed a system to meet it.

Key Points

Yet, creating a good and educational Web presence and patient library - the imperative words here being "good" and "educational" - can be complex and requires more time, know-how and creativity than some dermatologists may possess. So, what's a doc to do?

Enter Vivacare, a Web-based patient education service that can get you up and running at full steam, in just a few minutes - and at no cost to you. You can quickly set up a customized Web site for your practice, complete with biographical information, patient education libraries and newsletters.

Vivacare was founded and developed in 2005 by Mark Becker, M.D., a pediatrician in Berkeley, Calif., with more than a decade of experience developing patient education programs and using Internet-based tools to support medical practices.

"As the Internet grew," he says, "and firms like WebMD started to promote themselves as the ultimate resource for medical information, it became clear that the expertise of practicing physicians was being overlooked, and the physician-patient relationship was being ignored."

While many dermatologists already had Web sites - and many had information on the aesthetic components of their practices - Dr. Becker saw that few had information about skin conditions, medications or general skincare advice, such as sunscreen selection. And, for those who did have that information, keeping it current was a challenge.

Clearly, there was a need for physicians to have more direct control and input over the information their patients were getting.

Dr. Becker developed his system to put this control at physicians' fingertips - and at no cost to the physician or practice, because Vivacare derives revenue from content pharmaceutical and device manufacturers provide about their products. The information they provide is purely educational in nature, similar to paper-based handouts or rebate coupons you might use in your practice.

"Vivacare restores physicians to their rightful position as the patient's most trusted source of information about their health," Dr. Becker tells Dermatology Times.

Vivacare's goal, he says, is not to replace other sources of information for the patient, but to ensure that each practice can make available to the patient his or her own doctor's recommendations. Patients go online to find information - so, the imperative was to make available current, relevant and accurate information.

The ability to customize ensures that Web sites enhanced with the Vivacare educational service truly reflect the practice, Dr. Becker says.

"Each practice can turn topics on or off to reflect their unique approach to care. For instance, a practice that does not provide aesthetic procedures can be sure that information regarding Botox (Allergan Medical) or dermal fillers is not displayed," he says.

Although Vivacare can help build a Web presence for a physician, the most valuable component of Vivacare is the online Patient Education Library. This is preloaded with an in-depth collection of content from trusted sources.

The Patient Library contains information regarding common skin conditions (acne, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, rosacea, skin cancer, etc.); uncommon conditions (acanthosis nigricans, pemphigus, etc.); dermatologic procedures (chemical peels, laser resurfacing and Moh's Surgery); and medications.

The majority of information published in the library comes from professional organizations - advocacy groups and government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health - or is written by Vivacare with the oversight of its medical editors (all of whom are physicians).

"Importantly," Dr. Becker says, "The Patient Library does not display product logos, pop-ups or other forms of advertisements."