The physician Internet road does not need to be a rocky one

There’s no denying that the Internet has been an industry-changing phenomenon across a wide variety of fields. When it comes to healthcare, though, it’s suffered a rockier relationship.

The reason behind this strained relationship can be summed up handily in one word: skepticism. Skepticism from doctors, nurses and really anyone who spends time diagnosing patients. For the most part, this skepticism is understandable — after all, anyone with an Internet connection can set up a blog these days. Further, the average Internet user doesn’t always recognize the difference between well-researched information from a credible source and, well, Uncle Joe’s blog about how he got rid of his plantar warts. Even Google, which recently released “improvements” to its health search explained that “the list [of symptoms generated by search queries] is not authored by doctors and of course is not advice from medical experts.” And with an increasing number of patients searching for free medical advice online and making their own self- (and often mis-) diagnoses, you can see where the relationship between doctors and the Internet hit the rocks.

Despite this rocky relationship, the relationship between patients and the Internet is in full bloom. Every month, patients engage in over a billion health-related searches, and this number is only growing. I see only one logical response for doctors in the face of this patient demand: To get over their skepticism and get involved. The first step in this regard is realizing that, for every patient who is convinced of her diagnosis based on information from unreliable Internet sources, there’s another who is making sure he’s using a trustworthy website that provides information from real doctors — and, in a perfect world, information regarding that doctor’s background, licensing information, disciplinary history and even peer and patient reviews.

The glass is half full here, and doctors can fill it to the top. How? This is where the “get involved” part kicks in. Doctors can support and participate in those websites they find most reliable and they can create their own sources of information, whether it’s a blog, answering questions online or posting a YouTube video regarding common questions in their practice. Doctors — the world is begging for your expertise and, as we’ve seen, in the absence of more visible doctor participation, celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, Lance Armstrong and now Paula Deen, are using their platforms to become de-facto experts on a number of critical health topics.

Here’s the good news: The Internet is never going to replace a one-on-one doctor visit – and we should question any website or application that suggests otherwise. But with the average length of a doctor’s visit typically only 8 minutes long, by promoting and creating online information from doctors, the Internet can help patients get better educated and actually help to enhance the relationship they have with their actual doctor.

The physician Internet road does not need to be a rocky one. It just needs more intentional bricks to be laid by doctors. The more physicians get involved online, health-related websites will be held to a higher standard and everyone will ultimately benefit.

Mark Britton is the founder and CEO of Avvo, a free resource that rates and profiles 90% of all doctors and lawyers in the U.S.

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  • http://www.bryantsstatisticalconsulting.com Donald Tex Bryant

    I find that the ideas you share are interesting. I don’t think that physicians will start blogging more though. They are just too busy. I wonder sometimes how Dr. Pho finds the time to host and monitor this site. Would love to hear more about that.

    I will continue to submit articles to this site as I believe that the info that I share is useful to the medical community and will improve patient outcomes while improving the bottom line.

  • http://twitter.com/ZansD94 Dana

    Yes and in that 8 minutes they spend with you they can’t possibly diagnose some things and are not willing in many cases to research FOR their patient if they happen to have complex health issues, so the patient has no choice but to try to educate themselves. I have had doctors laugh and belittle me for using the internet but frankly as the article says in the absence of visible doctor participation what choice is there?