The Internet Will See You Now

A recent opinion article on CNN.com caught my attention. A prolific primary care physician, Dr. Kevin Pho, wrote about patients that bring their internet research, regarding their health question or concerns, to their visit with the physician. This may become even more frequent he points out, since a recent poll by the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that 61 percent of potential patients went online for health information in 2009. Dr. Pho describes how other physicians are opposed to the idea, because of their already limited amount of time available to see patients and address their concerns. Additionally, some physicians feel they are forced to justify their treatment recommendations when a patient’s online research disagrees with their proposed treatment plan. Regardless, the physician has to bear the legal risk of their recommendation, which puts them at a disadvantage with the internet. After all, if a patient suffers an adverse event from following a website’s recommendation will the website see them in the emergency room?, or perform surgery?, or at least send a ‘get well’ card?

There is no doubt that physicians are working harder and trying to see more patients as the demand for quality health care continues to escalate. As always, there is a middle ground. Educated patients are empowered patients. Researching their own information can allow patients to understand the context of their particular problem or condition. This information can help the patient frame the discussion with their physician about what is really concerning to them. When they see that websites are like opinions–everyone has one—they understand that sometimes there are no easy or right answers. Physicians can also provide recommendations of their trusted websites (hopefully, like this one) to help educate patients and provide motivation to become more engaged in improving their health. For instance, many websites such as www.acsm.org and www.eatright.org can provide tremendous resources for exercise and nutrition information. Dr. Pho points out that some pundits argue that physicians should receive additional financial incentives to spend more “e-time” with patients. Financial incentives may motivate, but should never be used as sole justification for not doing the right thing for patients. If proper education is needed, regardless of the source, physicians (or their health system) need to find a way to make that happen. Patients can do their part by remaining engaged, educated and encouraged to discover ways to work harmoniously with their physicians.

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About Steve P. Sanders

A general internist writing and sharing ideas and art.

One Response to “The Internet Will See You Now”

  1. There are pros and cons to researching medical information online, but for the most part it’s a good thing. Doctors are notorious for not providing information to their patients. If you don’t ask, they don’t tell – simple as that. The big problem, as you point out, is time. With a room full of patients and limited reimbursement based on the diagnosis, doctor’s start too lose money and the patients start getting backed up for each additional minute that the doctor has to sit there talk with the patient. From a business standpoint, it’s a problem. From a patient care standpoint, it’s great. I know some doctors have started scheduling longer patient appointments for this quality time, but that is usually not the norm. Can doctors find a balance? I don’t think it’s possible.

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