How many times have you turned to "Doctor Google" for medical advice? Or "diagnosed yourself" using a symptom checker app? Or crowdsourced second opinions on an online message board? According to the research, probably a lot.
Of course, Google isn't a real doctor, most of us can't actually diagnose ourselves and those probably aren't health professionals chiming in on the forum. Still, these digital tools have become a major part of the wellness landscape in the 21st Century - for better or worse.
Researching health information is one of the most popular online activities, and studies show that we look up everything from specific medical problems to alternative treatments. But for all that we have gained from having such easy access to health information, it may be time to consider what's at risk of being lost: the doctor-patient relationship.
When the bond between a doctor and patient is strong, it can be one of the most important partnerships of your lifetime. With principles of informed consent and shared decision making, this partnership is the foundation that lifelong, high-quality care is built upon.
In addition to intensive medical training, physicians are taught the importance of fostering open, honest communication with their patients. A physician is someone that a patient can always confide in, while a patient is someone that a physician must always listen to. When the relationship is healthy, your doctor will know you, your medical history and your health goals as intimately as you do.
But there's a growing concern among the medical community that patients are putting their trust in online avatars over actual doctors. And that's not the only potentially negative consequence.
Searching the web for medical advice can seriously drive up health anxiety, introducing fears of diseases and diagnoses that may not be correct. All you have to do is type "headache" into a symptom checker to yield worrisome results about brain tumors - even if the real culprit is something as simple as poor posture, eye strain or dehydration. (In other words, things that a doctor is trained to suss out.)
It can also give the illusion of expertise. Say for example your doctor has recommended a prescription medicine to lower your cholesterol. If you hop online to research the prescription, inaccurate information or negative opinions - which may or may not apply to your situation - might deter you from taking a potentially life-saving medication.
Some patients may even forgo in-person treatment after finding home remedies on the Internet. These might be ineffective, unnecessary or even dangerous.
Digital health tools aren't always a bad thing. Today, we're more aware than ever of potential health risks, we can easily locate doctors and specialists in our area, and we have access to support networks and materials that can help us cope through challenging times. But when self-education leads to wild speculation and misinformation, those tools can backfire.
The cure for this modern-day ailment? Establishing a trusting, confident doctor-patient relationship. Florida Hospital physicians and nursing staff are embracing new methods of communicating with patients that make staying in touch easy, convenient and personalized. With a little work from both parties, the doctor-patient partnership can remain in good health through every stage of your care - and provide you with something much more meaningful than a search engine can.
Do's and Don'ts of the Doctor-Patient Relationship
DO communicate any and all questions, concerns, ideas or suggestions with your doctor. Remember, your ongoing care is a team effort - not a one-way conversation. Both doctor and patient can, and should, play an active role.
DON'T leave a doctor visit without feeling satisfied. If a question hasn't been answered, or you if feel a concern hasn't been discussed to your liking, express that. Your physician is there to listen.
DO come prepared for your exam with discussion points. In addition to a list of symptoms, be ready to give your doctor a full picture of what you are feeling - for example, where or when you feel a certain pain and what triggers it. Adding context can help your doctor better understand your concerns, and help you feel more satisfied with your visit.
DON'T go overboard with online research. Studies show that using certain websites to look up health conditions and track symptoms can heighten health anxiety and even lead to unnecessary treatments.
DO ask your doctor for recommended reading on your condition or medication. Doctors want their patients to be educated, and having well-vetted information will help ensure what you're reading is accurate.
Begin your lifelong doctor-patient partnership at Florida Hospital today. Call us at (855) 303-DOCS or use our physician finder to locate a doctor and schedule an appointment.