It’s a digital world, and, any trepidation physicians have had from the prospect of having to deal with know-it-all patients who come in armed with previously resourced material for diagnoses scrubbed from the Internet ready to pounce, can breathe a sigh of relief. Popular destinations Google and Wikipedia comprise the majority of trolled online databases for medical treatments and descriptions of syndromes designed to easily fit within the patient’s scope of worry.
A Pew study released today shows that only about a third of all online inquiries meant for possible discussion with a healthcare provider are actually pursued. This really makes sense, and the number may actually be a bit higher than I would expect; the reason for this may be that, although patients may consider the avid search for what ails him or her prudent at the time, the major driver for this type of activity is looking for support that a provider can give. Vindication on the part of the patient may be what the provider initially senses, but, if the physician-patient treatment dyad is a mutual one, the provider can really use that “knowledge as power” ideal to strengthen the relationship, effectively treat the patient, adhere to their concerns, and make the relationship stronger.
Almost half of the self-diagnosers (46 percent) were alarmed enough by what they found to proceed to a doctor afterward; 41 percent say their theory was confirmed. No word on what percentage of medical professionals are sick and tired of hearing “but I read on the Internet that…”
“Online health information is available day or night, at no cost, and the Internet has become a de facto second opinion for many people,” said the report’s lead author Susannah Fox in a statement released with the report. She added, “The internet is just one piece of the puzzle. Clinicians are still central.”