August 1, 2012

Patients Trust Doctors but Consult the Internet

This is one study that does not reveal anything new to me. Members of our informal group have been talking about this for some time. We all were disappointed when one of the group had an appointment with a doctor for something other than diabetes. The doctor informed him that if he went on the Internet to search about his condition, he did not want him as a patient. Since he knew that he would, no matter what the doctor stated, he did think to ask a few questions.

Why would any doctor today make this statement? What was he trying to hide? The last question was why he would chase patients away? The doctor did say that for this condition there was not much good information on the Internet. Our friend did think to say why did the doctor not have a list of reliable websites to hand out rather than drive patients away. Doctor asked if he was intending to use the Internet and our friend said most definitely as he used it for other medical problems, among them diabetes, and that with a group of friends would be searching the Internet. The doctor just stated that he did not want him back as a patient. At least our friend stated that with this attitude, he would not be back to a doctor that was against technology.

We have had quite a bit of fun with this experience. A couple of phone calls were made to the office to see if this was indeed true. The person answering the phone just says yes, if you are a person that will search the Internet, the doctor does not want you as a patient. This has raised other activities like a doctor search and name search. Apparently this doctor has succeeded in maintaining an almost zero presence on the Internet, except for an address and office location.

In our research, we did discover that very little was available on the Internet. What was available was from studies that did not give out much information. The member did get another appointment with a different doctor. This doctor did a different series of tests and determined that the first diagnosis was not a complete diagnosis and that two important steps had been bypassed. The doctor asked if he was going to research for more information on the Internet and when our friend answered yes, the doctor handed him a list of URLs that could help. The doctor stated that there was other information, but he did not consider much of it as reliable. The doctor was right and had done his research. We found several other sites, but the information was not as complete.

Back to the study which found no evidence that the users of online health information had less trust in their doctors than patients who did not seek information through the Internet. Xinyi Hu, who co-authored the study as part of her master's thesis in communication was somewhat surprised and suggested that doctors need not be defensive when their patients come to their appointments armed with information taken from the Internet.

"As a practicing physician, these results provide some degree of reassurance," said co-author Richard L. Kravitz, a UC Davis Health System professor of internal medicine and study co-author. "The results mean that patients are not turning to the Internet out of mistrust; more likely, Internet users are curious information seekers who are just trying to learn as much as they can before their visit."”

Almost 70 percent of the study subjects reported they were planning to ask their doctor questions about the information they found, and about 40 percent said they had printed out information to take with them to discuss with their doctors. More than 50 percent of subjects said they intended to make at least one request of their doctor on the basis of Internet information.”

This says a lot about what people do with the information they glean from the Internet and that they would not be asking questions if they thought the information was not worthy of discussion. Doctors that are afraid of patients looking for information on the Internet, either are afraid of their lack of skills, or their knowledge of the topic. It is a good doctor that says he is not up on the information for the disease or illness of the patient and says we can learn together. This also says that the doctor is appreciative of a patient that is proactive in their care.

While many doctors hesitate to say that their education about an illness or a disease is not as recent as it should be, there are some that are confident in their skills to learn that they will challenge most patients to learn with them. These doctors should be valued as they want what is best for their patients and will spend the time learning so they can answer questions their patient asks. I have even seen doctors admit they are not current in their knowledge and refer a patient to a doctor that is current. This says that the doctor is a caring person and realizes that they do not have the time, or possibly even the interest at that time in their career and are confident in knowing what is best for the patient.

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