Dr. Google – Converting a threat to Opportunity

By Chandresh Shah

We have heard stories or have firsthand knowledge of how patients come to see physicians armed with printouts and information gleaned from the Internet about conditions that they are experiencing.

It almost seems like patients visit Dr. Google first before they come to see their physician. You probably have experienced times that when they come to your office, some already have a diagnosis in mind.

According to a study in 1999, it was found that health-related concerns dominated much of what people were looking for on the Internet. People are finding it easier to search online for answers to their health related questions. They seem to be bypassing traditional medical sources.

This creates a dilemma when patients walk in armed with information from “Google”. People fail to understand that Google is just a search engine and not a database of health-related information. There are instances where even if these patients are unable to determine the trustworthiness of the sources of information, they would still take the information hook, line and “clicker”

Dealing with Dr. Google

When dealing with a patient equipped with a “diagnosis” from Google, the obvious question is, how do you win a patients trust and resolve conflicts if a patient wants tests and treatments that you believe are unnecessary?

There can be many creative ways in which physicians can tackle this issue [I’m not calling it a problem].

The 1st goal is to Acknowledge that people go to the Internet because they have a problem, and the Internet is available and accessible easily.

2nd is to Understand and Acknowledge that patients are sometimes confused with the abundance of medical information available online.

You know very well and believe that Internet can never come close to the physician. It is not about competing with the Internet. We must accept Internet as a tool, not as a replacement.

Acknowledging can go a long way as it can help promote more open communication. As with any patient exam, you must always start by acknowledging the patient’s concerns. This is what we call as active listening even when you think you know exactly what the patient is going to say.

A large percentage of patients see their physicians with ideas they may have acquired from the Internet, which may or may not prove valid. But such research can bring out emotions and concerns related to their health symptoms, such as fear, uncertainty, sadness and worry. Being attentive to these underlying emotions, recognizing the patient’s perspective and allowing the patient to feel respected and heard goes a long way in developing mutual trust.

It is this trust that has the best chance of converting the challenges presented by Dr. Google into opportunities. This is the new evolution of physician-patient partnership that overcomes the threat posed by patients conducting their own research online. Instead of resisting and resenting the fact that patients conduct their own research online, it is better for physicians to be patient and understand the reasons why patients do this.

Dr. Google-From Threat to Opportunity

Knowledge empowers patients in shared decision-making. When providers realize that patients have received misinformation, or biased medical suggestions and come into the office with preconceived ideas about their diagnosis or treatment, it is precisely the trust that allows providers to overcome those fears.

It must also be realized that many patients come to see the doctor based on their online research which convinces them that they need medical attention and need to see a medical professional. It should be seen as a positive patient engagement rather than negative. Patients who have done online research seem to be more attuned to his or her symptoms and they can articulate them more easily.

In summary, changing the mindset from Internet being a threat to an opportunity not only develops the trust but can also lead to better patient outcomes as it can encourage better patient compliance with treatment plans because patients are now part of the solution.