What does Australian consumption of the internet say about us as a nation?

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Internet usage in Australia has been hitting the headlines. Last August, Facebook publically announced that Australia has 9.5 million subscribers and that we’re spending more time on the social networking site than any other country. The Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed earlier this year that the number of internet subscribers in Australia has increased by a sizable 10% to 10.4 million in the past ten months. So what does this say about us as a nation?

Australia image

You could argue that it’s something to do with Australia being an island – we’re a long way from everyone else and we use channels like Facebook and Google+ to communicate with long lost friends and relatives overseas. But then wouldn’t the same ring true for the UK, New Zealand and Japan? Perhaps it’s down to us being the stereotypical “friendly, laid back, social” Aussies who like to communicate with our mates. No! What it’s really got to do with is that we are informed, online users and data suggests that we like to do our research on the web before spending our hard earned dollars.

As a nation, we’re spending on average 22 hours a week online and a fifth of that’s using social media channels. You see, we like to browse, make informed decisions and see what other people are saying about a product or brand before making a decision. And this explains why there has been a huge surge in the number of Aussies contributing and using online reviews, discussions, comments and ‘Likes’ before making a purchase.

And the same rings true for the medical profession. In August this year, Cegedim Strategic data released new stats about doctor’s digital habits. The research suggested that 30% of doctors own an iPad and 56% plan to buy one in the future. Out of those who own an iPad, 17% said they use it for both work and personal reasons.

We’re also seeing steps being taken by the government to electronically coordinate patient care across the healthcare sector. It’ll be interesting to monitor the success of the initiative to roll out the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) system for Australians. From 2012-13, if we register, we’ll be able to see important health information in one consolidated view and share it with healthcare practitioners during our medical appointments. 

Nielsen published some very interesting data earlier in the year showing that we’re also leading the way in social media consumption. 73% of us read reviews, discussions and comments on brands, products and services at some stage and 26% do so on a regular basis. 46% have clicked the Facebook ‘Like’ button for a brand/organisation and 17% do so frequently.

Luckily we don’t have to stay glued to a computer to do our browsing. Nowadays, doctors can readily access mobile medical applications while in the hospital. Migraine patients can track their condition on the move, diabetes patients can log their glucose levels with a glucose buddy and smoking cessation apps motivate quitters while they are socialising by keeping a note of cost savings.

One thing’s for sure – Australian use of the internet is predicted to rise. In terms of what this says about us as a nation – it’s simple. We’re digitally savvy. We like to chat to our friends and family online, conduct web based research and shop around before we buy. Who knows what next year’s stats will suggest about our national digital habits. There’s only one way to find out – keep browsing.

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Paging Dr iPad?

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In true Steve Jobs (Apple CEO) fashion, the iPad launched last week with a bang. Apple’s slick answer to the tablet computer is essentially a bigger and better iPod Touch – sitting somewhere between smartphones and small computers.

Even before the gadget has hit Australian shores, speculation about the iPad has thundered through the community. Not surprisingly, it has also made noise in the medical area – after all, many healthcare professionals already use the iPhone and about 3,100 (granted, US-centric) health apps are already in existence. This week, 6minutes published an interesting article on the iPad’s potential role in medicine, which has already attracted mixed reviews of the device from local medics.

Steve Jobs shows off the iPad

Steve Jobs shows off the iPad - Cube blog post

So, is it time to tout this new device as ‘iDoc’?

The reviews have certainly been mixed. While some suggest the iPad is what doctors have been dreaming of since the PC revolution began, others say the iPad is not ready for healthcare.

To focus on one area, many have discussed the iPad’s potential in the hospital setting. Will it help doctors with ward rounds – gathering and sharing patient information, as well as its use as a patient education tool? Features like portability, a high-definition colour touch screen, multimedia content and wireless connectivity may certainly help. However, critics list a plethora of reasons why the iPad has no place in the hospital. It’s inability to multitask or take a photo and lack of a USB port and Flash support.

Local physicians offer mixed reviews. Sydney General Practitioner Dr Raymond Seidler says that for a GP who likes gadgets, the sleek and stylish iPad has everything he wants. Both he and his 12-year-old daughter are eagerly awaiting the iPad – but for different reasons.

Dr Seidler’s daughter is looking forward to watching movies, checking her Facebook and downloading first-run books to take to school, without adding to the 15 kg to her backpack. While Dr Seidler will be able to check e-mail, YouTube and listen to podcasts from his favourite online sites, the BBC or the New Yorker.

Medical textbooks like Harrison’s online will be a click away and the large screen does away with my need for spectacles, which are necessary when I’m squinting at my tiny iPhone, he said.

Professor Jeff Szer, a Melbourne-based haematologist, agrees that technology like the iPhone/iPod Touch have a role to play in medicine. Professor Szer’s perspective on the iPad, however, is that the gadget is unlikely to change the face of how medicine is practiced.

This device has been preceded by a decade of tablet devices, none of which has found anything but niche uses in some health-related areas. I do not expect the iPad to be a game-changer.

While Professor Szer believes that “connectedness” is important for information exchange and communication in medicine, he will not rush out to buy an iPad.

A recent survey by Software Advice showed that while healthcare professionals welcome tablet computers and iPhones, this does not mean the iPad is the solution, as it lacks a number of fundamental features necessary in the healthcare field. 

The iPad certainly has its supporters and critics – but will it affect how medicine is practiced in Australia? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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