Many patients seek online health information not only because they are curious, but due to missing or dubious advice given them by care providers, a recent survey confirms.
Communication may be a cornerstone of the doctor-patient relationship, but for a myriad reasons, important clinical information tends to get missed or misinterpreted during an office visit.
A recent survey confirms this disconnect between patients and their providers, and explains how more and more patients are turning to online sources to fill the gap.
The University of California, Davis surveyed 311 members of the support group website Daily Strength to find out the reasons why they sought online information after they visited their doctors.
The survey wanted to establish some evidence on online health seeking behavior after consultations, as there has been sparse research done on the subject.
Outcomes of the online health survey
The findings showed that 8 out of 10 patients said they went online after seeing their doctor.
- 68% said they did so out of curiosity – by far the most common reason. Not surprising, given the ready access to online health information from computers and smartphones.
- 40% of patients said they went online because they were dissatisfied with their provider’s performance.
- 30% claimed they received incomplete information
- 14% said they received inaccurate information from their doctors
- 23% cited poor clinical care for their reason for going online post-visit
The survey confirms the notion that care providers can be poor communicators.
It indirectly poses the challenge for physicians to be more aware that they need to act more as a guide for patients, especially in this age of interconnected healthcare.
Patients nowadays may not view their doctor as the sole authority when it comes to their health.
“Like it or not, patients are very likely to visit the Internet after their medical visits,”
“Physicians should be proactive by giving their patients 'website prescriptions' that identify accurate, authoritative websites related to the medical condition in question. Physicians should not assume that their patients will be able to tell the difference between a quality website and one that promulgates 'junk science' and other kinds of unsupported claims.”
Patients are being warned that many websites contain erroneous health information. But many people cannot differentiate authentic sources from the dubious ones.
Sifting through online resources to find out more about symptoms and ailments could bring more harm than good. And without the context of an individualized clinical encounter and treatment plan, this online health seeking behavior could be downright dangerous.
The researchers recommend that physicians prevent this problem in the first place by communicating effectively during a face-to-face (or telehealth) session.
“The physician who is truly concerned about patients going online should practice patient-centered care,”
Dr. Bell said in an email to Reuters.
“This means that the physician needs to solicit the patient's full agenda, ask questions, listen carefully to the answers, encourage patients to ask their questions, and practice shared decision-making. A patient so treated will be less inclined to turn to the Internet out of dissatisfaction with the care they received. Of course, they may still go online to satisfy curiosities.”
According to the survey, the most common sources patients used to look for more information are:
- Support group fora
- Websites run by medical associations
- Online health articles
Moreover, the most eHealth literate patients were twice as likely to look for online resources after seeing their doctor.
As more patients become eHealth literate in the future, the more likely they will turn to the Internet for answers.
The survey report has been published online recently in Family Practice.