Patients Googling Symptoms- Does This Mean They Don’t Trust Providers?

My patients usually present with an idea of what medical issue they might be experiencing.  How?  They have consulted Dr. Google…and therefore concluded they are suffering from some sort of cancer or rare plague.  The insect bite on their big toe from two days ago has become red and swollen.  Forget the more likely allergic reaction or mild case of cellulitis, this is the dreaded necrotizing fasciitis.  Do patients consult Google out of curiosity, or is it because they no longer trust medical providers?

University of California Davis researchers studied the question, “Do individuals reporting a high level of trust in their doctors engage in less previsit online information seeking than individuals who have low trust or no past relationship with the appointment doctor?”.  Researchers gathered data from 505 individuals and were surprised by what they found, mistrust in medical providers was not a major reason people seek health information online.

Online information does, however affect the interaction between patient and medical provider.  50 percent of patients planned to make a request to their provider based on information they collected on the internet, 70 percent were likely to ask a question based on online information and 38 percent planned to request a new or different treatment at their next visit based on their individual online research.

Nurse practitioners should view patient’s personal quest for online information as a positive one.  Patient-provider interactions are deeper and more informative when the patient is prepared with a basic level of knowledge.  Online information leads patients to ask better questions and achieve a deeper level of understanding of their issue leaving them more satisfied with their care.  When patients are educated regarding all treatment options for their medical problem, they are likely to request the treatment regimen that suits them best personally.

Rather than roll your eyes next time a patient presents to your clinic with a stack of internet printouts and a self-diagnosed case of [insert awful, terrible, deadly disease here], be happy they have an idea of what’s going on with their health.  Encourage patient’s to become more involved in their medical care.  With the patient and provider more informed, your interaction will go more seamlessly setting your work day off on a positive note and your patient on a path to better health.

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