Family Physicians Embrace Credible Online Health Resources

More and more, consumers are turning to online medical resources to self-diagnose, a reality that the healthcare industry is cautiously accepting.

The internet can replace trips to the grocery store, the library, and (if you count searching for workouts online) the gym. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we are now turning to the internet more for medical information than we are to our doctors.

Consumers spend nearly 52 hours per year looking for health information online, compared to just three visits to the doctor, according to new research by Makovsky Health and research firm Kelton. However, the research also shows that physicians are the key influencer in sparking online health research—51 percent of those surveyed said they visited a pharma-sponsored website after being diagnosed by their physician.

“The survey results demonstrate that even as consumers research health-related information online, they seek trusted resources for that information,” said Gil Bashe, executive vice president and practice director at Makovsky Health, in a statement. “Healthcare providers and patient advocates serve an increasingly key role in guiding consumers to credible information and community support that can benefit their care. Our job as communicators remains connecting patients in need with the information and resources that advance their well-being.”

WebMD was the most frequently accessed resource with 53 percent of the 1,067 respondents saying they visit the site. Other top resources included social media sites like YouTube, Facebook, and blogs (32 percent); Wikipedia (22 percent); health magazine websites (19 percent); and advocacy group websites (16 percent).

Despite the challenges that online resources pose to the healthcare industry, such as a declining number of patient visits and patients who come in misinformed, the American Academy of Family Physicians has embraced the trend and even followed suit, creating its own public online resource.

“Family physicians definitely appreciate having a well-informed patient population that we can work with on a collaborative basis for diagnosis and treatment,” said Dr. Ravi Grivois-Shah, a member of AAFP’s board of directors and the medical director of New North Health Service Corporation. “I often refer patients out to different websites either by giving them handouts for websites or telling them to search certain terms. It’s really important for them to be well-informed about a condition.”

An informed patient who comes in for a visit with a self-diagnosis can have some drawbacks, though. She may place more emphasis on certain symptoms, which could affect the physician’s diagnosis.

“There are so many factors that go into making a diagnosis and a treatment plan,” said Grivois-Shah. “Things like past medical history, family medical history, a physical exam, the vital signs, and what medications they’re on are more complicated and nuanced than I think a search online would be able to give someone.”

For family physicians to better serve their patients in the information age, they have to point them to reputable sources, Grivois-Shah said.

“With patients going out and getting information on their own—everything from the sites that rate physicians to the medical information sites—this trend was inevitable,” he said. “It’s important that we be prepared when patients bring in information, be proactive, drive patients to certain sites that we trust, and direct them toward the right information, the most accurate information that they can get.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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