The easy availability of online healthcare information has changed the dynamic between doctor and patient.
Patients who look for online healthcare information are more engaged
‘Dr Google’ is now the first place many people turn to for medical advice. And if a patient researches their condition before visiting their doctor, the nature of the conversation is different. The patient is more engaged in the consultation, and in their treatment as well.
This can be a positive for the doctor, but a little information can be a dangerous thing. A patient may have self-diagnosed incorrectly, or been misinformed by inaccurate information, and time is wasted in the consultation setting things straight and forming a correct diagnosis.
Some patients also question their doctor’s instructions by looking up drugs online and posting questions to forums and social media sites before filling their prescriptions. Not surprisingly, bad news stories are more common than good news ones, causing some people not to fill their scripts at all, and others to go back to their doctor with a shopping list of questions.
Doctors still behind patients
Unlike many of their patients, doctors appear to be well behind the curve in their use of online information resources, let alone social media, and are not well-informed about the sources of quality patient information that are available.
On the long list of things they have to keep up to date with, patient information websites are near the bottom. Doctors are distrustful of anything a patient may find for themselves and are cautious about recommending online information. And yet, they are the people best placed to guide their patients to the most reputable sources of medical information.
A lot of stakeholders in the healthcare sector are keen to better utilise the internet as an information channel, but the divergent attitudes between patients and doctors are impeding developments in this area.
Note: a version of this article was first published in Research News, April 2013