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How Doctors Feel About Patients Who Google Their Symptoms

Many doctors roll their eyes whenever patients bring in a stack of research they printed out, stemming from a Google search of their symptoms. A piece by Dr. Zachary Meisel on TIME.com describes a familiar scenario:

The medical intern started her presentation with an eye roll. “The patient in Room 3 had some blood in the toilet bowl this morning and is here with a pile of Internet printouts listing all the crazy things she thinks she might have.”

The intern continued, “I think she has a hemorrhoid.”

“Another case of cyberchondria,” added the nurse behind me.

It’s time to stop debating whether patients should research their own symptoms. It’s happening already, and the medical profession would be better served to handle this new reality.

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 61 percent of patients turn to the web to research health information. That number is from 2009, so presumably it’s higher today. Health information online is akin to the Wild, Wild West. Stories from questionable sites come up on Google as high — or higher — than information from reputable institutions.

For instance, I recently wrote that when looking for CPR videos online, many of the videos that come up on YouTube were of questionable accuracy.

Dr. Meisel comes up with some sensible ideas of how doctors can help patients in this era of abundantly online health information:

… doctors can guide their patients to Internet sites that exclusively present current, peer-reviewed and evidence-based health information.

And perhaps more importantly,

doctors and nurses are going to have to shed the presumption that the Internet makes patient care harder. The sanctimony that comes with the eye roll and the cyberchondriac label may be an extreme example, but it’s still a problem if doctors continue to walk into the exam room with the belief that patients always need to be disabused of the wrong and sensationalistic information they picked up while trolling the Net.

Getting online and helping patients navigate through the trove of health information on the web is a new physician responsibility for the 21st century, like it or not. It’s what I try to do on KevinMD.com, along with the links I post on Facebook and re-tweet on Twitter. But doctors need to shed their disdain over the Googling patient first, before more can get online to help them.

*This blog post was originally published at KevinMD.com*


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2 Responses to “How Doctors Feel About Patients Who Google Their Symptoms”

  1. Julie Bohlen says:

    Great post. I appreciate Dr Pho and Dr Meisel continuing to encourage doctors and other health experts to be active online. Definitely agree that “Getting online and helping patients navigate through the trove of health information on the web is a new physician responsibility for the 21st century, like it or not.” The Internet can be an extension of the physician’s office. The patients are already there, so either physicians guide the health info experience there or they don’t. Hopefully, many of us will continue to encourage our health experts to lead the online experience while sharing their quality expertise and wisdom.

    With nearly 90% of online Americans using the Internet to find health info (Harris poll, July 2010) and 40% turning to social media in the process (Epsilon Study, March 2010), there is a need for health professionals to influence the quality of the health information available online as well as the health content and discussions accessible via social media.

    Julie Bohlen
    VP Professional Services
    OrganizedWisdom

  2. Let’s admit it. Aren’t we Googling just as much as they are?

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