Healthcare News & Insights

Survey: Online research can strengthen patient-doctor relationships

More patients are turning to the Internet for information on health conditions and other medical info. That can either help or hurt patients’ relationships with their physicians, depending on how the doctor reacts. 

Right now, 30% of people say they always or frequently go online to search for medical information, according to a recent survey from Wolters Kluwer. That number will likely increase as more information becomes available and people become more tech-savvy.

And according to a new survey published in the British Journal of General Practice, that additional research can have both positive and negative consequences for doctor-patient relationships.

Fortunately for doctors, most of the 26 patients interviewed said they gave much more weight to the information doctors gave than what they found online. Some physicians may be afraid that online research will turn up incorrect or misapplied data that could lead to poor decision making on the patient’s part.

However, most of the patients surveyed said they felt like they were doing the right thing by bringing the information to their doctor, and most said they felt like their relationship with their doctor improved. Patients who had positive experiences said that their doctor listened to patients when they explained what information they found online, addressed their concerns and offered their support and professional opinion.

While most experiences were positive, some patients reported negative ones as well. For example, a few said their doctor seemed to feel threatened or undermined because the patient got information elsewhere. Others said the doctor disregarded what the patient explained or refused to admit when they had a lack of knowledge.

The lesson for doctors: Patients still value the professional opinions of their physicians, but will turn to other sources for information, too. Doctors should embrace that fact, rather than feel threatened, and be open-minded when patients tell them about what they have read. Doctors can also help by giving people tips on how to find trustworthy medical information on the Internet.

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