Patient online research driven by curiosity, not mistrust

Patients who research health information online are not driven to do so by mistrust for their doctors. Rather, they do their homework to simply be more informed about and involved in managing their health, according to a new study from UC Davis Health System.

The study found that patients' online research did affect interactions with their doctors. According to the survey of more than 500 people who were members of online support groups and had scheduled appointments with a physician:

  • Nearly 70 percent of respondents were planning to ask their doctors questions about the information they found
  • About 40 percent printed Web material to bring to their medical visit
  • More than 50 percent said they planned to make at least one request to their doctor based on their Web research
  • Patients were more likely to look for medical information online when their condition was distressful or they perceived some level of personal control over their illness
  • Internet research was more common among patients who believed their conditions were long term

"As a practicing physician, these results provide some degree of reassurance," said Richard L. Kravitz, UC Davis Health System professor of internal medicine and study coauthor. "The results mean that patients are not turning to the Internet out of mistrust; more likely, Internet users are curious information seekers who are just trying to learn as much as they can before their visit."

But as productive as it may be for patients to visit trusted sites to research conditions they know they have, physicians often warn patients against using the Internet to diagnose themselves. When patients find that some of their common symptoms, such as nausea and fatigue, match those of a serious disease, it can cause patients needless worry or a full-blown case of cyberchrondria.

"While I love their sense of curiosity and ownership of their health, their online searches can (and often do) go awry," Aditi Nerurkar, a primary care physician at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, recently told Mashable.

On the flip side, sometimes Internet research can prompt patients to get life-saving medical attention, Mashable noted, as was the case when San Diego Padres pitcher Tim Stauffer correctly realized he was suffering from appendicitis after researching symptoms on his iPhone.

To learn more:
- read the statement from the UC Davis Health System
- see the study abstract from the Journal of Health Communication
- check out the post from Mashable