5 Ways the Internet Has Changed the Patient-Doctor Relationship

googling

Recently, I read the title of an article called “When Doctors ‘Google’ Their Patients” and thought, “What a good idea!”  I’m a big fan of bedside manner, and I kind of wish the medical professionals who’ve treated, examined, and operated on me, had done just that.  It would be nice to walk into a doctor’s office and feel like you’re being perceived as an individual, instead of just another patient on a long list.

But Haider Javed Warraich, the article’s author, and a doctor himself, points out another side to the phenomenon: what if a doctor found information that made him or her view a patient in a negative light?  In that case, I guess it’s good that I’m anonymous when I walk into a doctor’s office – I want effective treatment, regardless of how my beliefs and my doctor’s mesh. ….Then again, I might not be so anonymous after all; Dr. Warraich says that googling patients has become a compulsion among many of his colleagues.

If you think about it, the googling doctor phenomenon isn’t an isolated case: the internet has profoundly changed the doctor-patient relationship in a lot of ways.  Here are four others:

1. Self-diagnosis.

I’ve done it before, and you probably have, too.  Dr. Francis Slattery writes that nowadays many patients will come to the doctor’s office with their own diagnosis based on what they’ve read on symptom-checking websites and other online resources.  While it may seem like this is a positive thing – power to the people and all that –Slattery brings up the obvious downside: possible misdiagnosis.  He’s right, of course, although I was impressed to learn that, according to a recent study, 41% of American adults who self-diagnose based on online research actually get it right!  Still, it’s always better to have a professional check you out.  Really.

2. Free, easily accessible medical information.

Online research does not an MD make — but there are reliable sources of information on the web that can give laypeople basic facts about things like health conditions and treatment.  When used reasonably and responsibly, they allow us to ask our doctors better questions, and get a better understanding of what’s going on and what to do about it.  Access to medical information online doesn’t stop at us patients; Slattery notes that doctors use Internet resources, too, from general references, to programs that let them get remote analyses of X-rays, cardiograms, and other medical imagery.

3. Reduced medical expenses.

Unfortunately, not all treatments fall under this banner, but a huge range of medications and other prescriptions, like contact lenses, can be ordered online for prices that are lower than what you’d pay at your local pharmacy.  Of course, always be sure to use reliable, trustworthy sites – not some dude selling Adderall on Craigslist.  This article has some helpful tips on how to know if the site you’re on is legit.

4. Patients googling doctors.  Aha! The tables have turned; sure, doctors can google patients, but we patients can also get information about doctors online.  Whether you ask people’s opinions on a forum, or look up an MD on a site like Yelp, you can often get a good idea of how the doctor you’re planning to see measures up, from both a professional perspective, and a bedside manner-related one.

Alysa Salzberg

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