Last month we published results of a survey about how patients discuss Internet health information with their doctors. Here are the results of a survey of doctors on LinkedIn and Twitter conducted in October that included 17 doctors.
Despite the small number of Internet-savvy participants, this material is a window into the thoughts of physicians who experience patients sharing health information from the Internet.
A Range of Responses
Prior to creating the survey, I emailed a few physicians to get their take on Internet health information sharing. Here is a clue to the range of responses patients might receive. For example, one physician stated:
“Folks bring stuff from the Internet but I never look at it. It is primarily folks who are coming in to discuss options for prostate cancer treatment.”
Yet another physician is interested in learning more about where patients find information:
“I get some patients printing off information from certain websites. Most of the time it’s reliable like National Cancer Institute or Mayo Clinic, but sometimes it’s definitely more likely a Google search result. I have started including in consultations a health information review… to assess where they may be going online.”
Back in 2009, Trisha Torrey wrote a post for About.com on the Do’s and Don’ts of sharing health information from the Internet with your physician. The post included criticisms physicians have with patients’ Internet health research. The complaints included the reliability of Internet information and its timeliness, the lack of time during appointments, and cyberchondria, a phrase created in the 1990s to describe when people with little or no medical training misdiagnose themselves from information they have gathered online.
There are some similarities in the doubts and the recommendations in Torrey’s post and that of the survey physicians. Yet some change has occurred in the last 4 years. For example, survey physicians are used to patients discussing information from the Internet—all (100%) of physicians have had this happen and their patients are very likely to share by bringing in printouts of their Internet searches (76%).
Positive Feelings Toward Patient Internet Health Information Research
These physicians (82%) disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that it was irritating to have patients bringing the results of Internet searches to an office visit. In fact, the 13 comments were favorable toward patients who are interested in educating themselves, but with some concerns over the sources their patients present. Seven of the comments were completely favorable to patient research and sharing.
“I enjoy helping them vet sources together, plus I usually learn something new.”
“I appreciate having informed patients. It shows that they care about their health and it provides me with a teaching opportunity.”
“Informed patients are good.”
“I expect people to research their symptoms or disease.”
“The majority of patients are using “Dr. Google.” To be irritated is to be naïve. It is most helpful to know what my patients are finding out there so that we can address those concerns. Plus not being infallible or all knowing, their research may be something helpful to them and for me to learn.”
“It’s great to know what patients are worried about. I see our role as being a bit like a travel guide. Sometimes we make recommendations about sites to visit. It’s good to see what information patients are accessing themselves.”
“It is useful to know what concerns patients.”
Worries About Information Sources
There were worries about the health information on the Internet.
“I appreciate patients being proactive and wanting to educate themselves. But it depends on what they do with the info. Occasionally it can be difficult if they are set on a decision based on misinformation, but that’s rare.”
“It is my job to educate the patient and it is the patient’s job to be as well informed as possible. Most of the time their knowledge helps me educate them, but occasionally folks bring in info about nonstandard options that I will generally have to shoot down.”
“It is not irritating but the articles are inaccurate and sensationalist.”
Only one physician mentioned “time limitations” in his answer. And two neutral statements were made:
“They are free to check other sources of information.”
“It can go either way. It can open areas of discussion that might not have come up otherwise. On the other hand the Internet is not infallible.”
Helpful to Office Visits?
Doctors are split about the whether “it’s helpful to have patients bring information from the Internet to office visits”: Forty-one percent (41%) of physicians agreed or strongly agreed with the statement while 30% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement. The rest (29%) are neutral.
Eighteen percent (18%) of physicians suggested that the patient provide this information ahead of their appointment, especially if it is lengthy.
“I like it when patients alert me to interesting articles on social media or email articles to my office ahead of their visit so I have time to review ahead of the office visit.”
“Send it in advance of appt so I can review.”
However, a quarter of the physicians preferred the patient to bring the information to the appointment in person. Here’s what one physician said.
“To print out the material and bring it with them to the visit; or if it’s lengthy to email it to me first.
Don’t Judge Me
It is important to remember that physicians have gone through significant training and experience. Choosing to question them based on searches on the Internet, especially judging them without sharing that research, can be insulting.
“Just tell me up front what they have found out. I don’t like it when they keep it to themselves and then judge my comments based on their ‘knowledge.’”
The Need For Respect
If both parties are polite and respectful to each other, bringing health information from the Internet to your doctor appointments can is an opportunity for a positive interaction.
A few physicians offered these ideas to patients interested in sharing Internet health information.
‘They should begin by determining where on the spectrum their doctor is with Internet searches. This will at least give the patient a clue about what kind of reception they may receive. Then they can start diplomatically with “I found this information [name the source] web site. What do you think about it?”
“Write down your questions. Decide what extra bits of information you would like to know in order to make an informed decision. Ask the clinician what sites they can recommend.”
So What’s The Take-Away?
For at least these physicians, Internet health information is being brought to patient appointments and received in a relatively positive way. To increase the respect and cordiality of physician-patient relationships, responses of physicians in this survey agree with Torrey’s recommendations. These include sharing recent information and sharing from “credible” sites.
Three of the surveyed physicians reiterated the importance of “reliable,” “vetted websites,” “forums with confidentiality HIPAA compliant” and sites that provide “well-written non-anecdotal unbiased pieces.”
Did you know? Doctors across the US are now inviting their patients to Medivizor. Have you told your doctor or health care provider about Medivizor?