Helping Patients With Their Online Research

August 25, 2010

Do you have a handy list of online resources ready to give to patients for their research? If not, perhaps you should. Not surprisingly, patients are increasingly turning to the Internet for health information, but they aren’t always discussing their findings with their physicians.

Do you have a handy list of online resources ready to give to patients for their research? If not, perhaps you should. Not surprisingly, patients are increasingly turning to the Internet for health information, but they aren’t always discussing their findings with their physicians, according to an American Medical News report.

A new Harris poll found that 88 percent of Internet users looked for health information online, which is up from 80 percent in 2006. More than half of them did so after a doctor’s visit, and 53 percent said they talked about what they found with their doctors. That number is up from a year ago, but down from 2005.

Another interesting finding: 85 percent found the information to be reliable, which is down from 90 percent in 2005. That still may be a high, but it’s not perfect, and the numbers seem to suggest an opportunity for physician involvement in patients’ online research.

As our own guest blogger Randall Wong, MD, has noted, the Internet offers a wealth of information, but it’s largely unregulated. It’s often up to the provider to ensure patients get the right information, either through their own Web sites, as Dr. Wong has done, or in handouts and guidance on where to go on the Web.

For a story on how to deal with the know-it-all patient (the one who has overdone it with extensive research, usually online), consultant Susanne Madden told me it’s important for physicians to offer some respected sites to help patients in their research. “Of course, the idea is not that a physician sends the patient off to cyberspace to figure things out for themselves.” Instead, she said, “Why not redirect them to reasonable sources.”

She suggested practices put together a single handout sheet on a hot topic, giving basic information and references to other online resources.

Do you have a way to communicate the best online sources to your patients? Are you discussing their online research with them during the visit?