Though they need to better engage patients in their health, physicians often struggle to help patients use medical information they may obtain online in a productive way. Difficulties with patients consulting "Dr. Google" may include misinformation, biased medical suggestions and patients' preconceived ideas about their diagnosis or treatment, Laura Cooley, Ph.D., director of education and outreach at the American Academy on Communication in Healthcare in Lexington, Kentucky, told Medical Economics.
To turn these possible conflicts into communication opportunities, experts offer the following tips:
- Tune in. Health information that patients find online, whether accurate and applicable or not, can foster emotions such as fear, uncertainty and worry. Rather than dismissing patients' concerns in these situations, physicians should make sure people feel respected and heard, Cooley said.
- Engage in dialogue. "Be solicitous of their investigations," Anderson Spickard III, M.D., assistant dean of educational informatics and technology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, recommended in the article. In other words, ask patients questions about what led them to search a certain health topic and what they believe they learned. In many cases, patients' homework will allow for a better-informed discussion.
- Help patients find good information. Physicians can use their own websites, social media feeds or patient education materials to help direct patients to trustworthy sources of information that they can use as a starting point for physician-patient discussion. A recent partnership between Google and the Mayo Clinic may make this task easier, according to an article from Managed Healthcare Executive. The health-search product, launched in February, uses Google's Knowledge Graph to help app users find physician-vetted information more quickly. In addition to a list of web links, the app and search engine provide boxed information on typical symptoms and treatments and how common the condition is, whether it is contagious, FierceHealthIT reported.