In a world of cyberchondria and a web polluted with unlimited medical data, patients are searching for their symptoms, diagnoses, and treatment options even before going to a physician. Nowadays, at least one-third of patients go on the Internet for self-diagnosis — or, often, self-misdiagnosis.
After searching for a symptom, understanding e-medical facts is not as simple as reading hotel amenities or reviewing a pizza place. This paradigm introduces new patient behaviors that physicians are not prepared to deal with in medical school or during training years.
Data showed that more than fifty percent of patients do not share with their doctor that they searched the topic on the Internet. How do patients react if the physician gives them different information than what they read online? Do they trust him and ignore their research? Or would they go to another physician, thinking this one is wrong and outdated?
Unfortunately, this is now a fact — we cannot fight or control it anymore. All we can do as physicians are to be aware of it and understand patients’ fears and thoughts after they have been “manipulated” by the Internet.
Physicians are compelled to make the effort of not only following valuable medical information in peer-reviewed journals and professional societies sites, but also they need to be aware of the set of data available for the public, data often put together by non-doctors. This will make doctors better understand patients’ concerns and try to build on or correct “common e-knowledge” when sometimes this knowledge is wrong, inaccurate, or does not apply to the patient’s situation.
On another note, we cannot convince our patients not to go on the Internet as they “can’t help it.” Providers should not be shy to direct their patients to use this tool by recommending accurate keywords that apply to their disease and suggesting specific procedures to look up on video-sharing platforms.
With millennials seeking more medical care, the social media revolution and internet mania will further impact patient behavior. Providers have non-conformal tasks: to be aware of these new trends and influences to integrate them into their practices and reinforce patient-doctor relationships; we mention in this article following public data from unconfirmed medical sources and counseling patients for accurate web searches.
Homer Moutran is an otolaryngologist.
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