It would seem that almost every question imaginable has an answer now that Google is in everyone’s pocket.
We pull out our smart phones when debating who actually guest starred on a 1996 episode of Friends or how to make a killer chili on a Sunday afternoon. It’s easy for a patient diagnosed with a serious, chronic disease, like autoimmune arthritis, to read an unlimited amount of information online about their illness. And, unlike an infinite number of chili recipes, you can have too much of a good thing. Online information overload is real. Patients seeking answers and direction for disease management can easily get overwhelmed with information.
While arming oneself with knowledge seems like a smart idea, it comes with its share of pitfalls. “Dr. Google” can improperly influence an individual toward a specific treatment plan. With a myriad of treatments and management strategies available for each patient, rheumatologists should be prepared to guide their patients to credible online medical sources.
I cannot underscore enough the importance of reviewing with your patients, the pros and cons of relying on the internet for medical information. Today, even older populations rely on the internet for information. Researchers have found that over two-thirds of baby boomers use the internet regularly and with 76 million boomers in the U.S., this trend will continue.
The number of online medical resources and communities is staggering and without proper guidance, patients surf through websites with no real way to decifer credible information. Physicians should be prepared to direct their patients to credible online sources. Without some guidance, patients may wind up overwhelmed and confused.
Undocumented or non-researched information is pervasive online. One recent study found that of 85 websites about gout, more than 50% were found to offer no information of value or erroneous information. Furthermore, 68% were labeled challenging to read or comprehend.
Information overload is the next biggest pitfall. Patients who Google prescribed or recommended treatments may come away with a skewed view of the drug’s risks or side effects without fully comprehending their personal level of risk. Drug package inserts and product websites are written for the general population. Without guidance, a Google search may confuse the patient further.
Are You Being Stalked Online?
Patients are Googling to seek information about their doctors. They seek out websites that list a doctor’s specialty and education, but often also rate them and allow patients to comment on their experience. Remind your patients that everyone has a different treatment journey and that comparing experiences may not offer real benefit.
For patients, there may be benefits in reviewing their doctor’s research or writings online. The more the patient can learn about their doctor, the more confident they may be in selecting a doctor— which can be a step toward building a strong patient-to-doctor relationship. And, just as doctors are being searched by patients, doctors might want to consider Googling themselves to see what their patients are saying.
Help Patients Navigate Online Support
Online support communities are not one in the same. Some communities focus on a specific arthritis diagnosis, while others are broader and speak to life with arthritis. Communities such as CreakyJoints, have a broader appeal for patients. We offer support, education and information participating in clinical research.
The internet has changed the way we seek and process information. Rheumatologists can strengthen their relationships with patients by guiding their patients to credible information sources.
Chase, J. (2016, July). “Healthcare marketers: Don’t forget about the baby boomers,” Medical Marketing & Media, July 27, 2016.
Hesse, B. W. (2012, May). “The patient, the physician, and Dr. Google.” AMA Journal of Ethics. May 2012, Volume 14, Number 5 :398-402.
Jimenez-Linan, L. M., Edwards, L., Abiheshek, A., Doherty, M. “Online patient information resources on gout provide inadequate information and minimal emphasis on potentially curative urate lowering treatment,” July 2016. Arthritis Care Res, DOI: 10.1002/acr.22981