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What Do Doctors Think When Patients Google Their Symptoms?

14/09/2017 15:03

What do doctors think of patients who Google all their symptoms and think they know better? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Nicole Van Groningen, Internal Medicine Physician, Medical Writer & Contributor:

It's a double-edged sword.

On one hand, patients who take the time to Google their symptoms are clearly engaged in their care and well-being. They can usually articulate how they're feeling, provide detailed time courses for their symptoms, and are well aware of any existing medical problems. This makes obtaining a medical history easy for physicians, who often struggle to piece together the stories told by patients who are less engaged and can't provide this kind of detailed background. The most important clue in understanding what is wrong with a patient is the story they tell - so if a doctor can't understand the story, her job becomes dramatically more difficult.

But patients who spend time researching their symptoms on the internet often self-diagnose and come in to the office with requests for particular therapies. Sometimes, their assessments of their disease and the treatments they propose are spot-on. But more commonly, they've been led astray by something they read on the internet, and in this case, it can be challenging to convince them to partner with you (the physician) and take a different, more scientific approach. The internet makes high-quality health information accessible to billions of people, but low-quality health information from non-doctors and non-scientists is even more abundant. If you Google virtually any disease, you will find people and organisations - often with shaky or nonexistent credentials - who promote non-evidence based interventions that may do more harm than good.

Even when there is high-quality medical evidence available, it's often difficult for non-health care professionals to interpret correctly. Clinical studies use measurements like odds ratios and relative risk, which, in addition to be completely unintuitive, are misinterpreted all the time.

So when I encounter patients who think they know more than me because they spent time on Google, it can be frustrating. Most of the time, I listen to the patient's point of view, share my own, and ultimately we develop a working therapeutic relationship. But there are times when a patient has left my office completely unsatisfied and has undoubtedly gone straight to another provider.

In my opinion, the best solution is to provide better education about health, science, and clinical studies to the general public, so that people have the tools to separate internet garbage from real science.

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