Since the evolution of the internet, patients have started to rely on “Dr. Google” for medical advice and questions about their treatments or symptoms. While there are many benefits to having so much information at your fingertips, the internet can also be harmful to your health if you are not referencing accurate sources. 

From a medical communications standpoint, here is what we have learned about physician-patient relationships in regards to online resources:

Benefits of Online Resources

Access to reputable directories and organizations

Gone are the days of having to go directly into your doctor’s office to find reliable resources that can help you with your own care and the care of a loved one. There are many established and well-known stakeholder and patient organization websites loaded with details and cited by reputable healthcare professionals that want to help a patient better understand their needs.  For example, websites that end with “.org” are generally seen as reliable or trustworthy.

Opportunity to view digital testing and tracking

It’s never been easier to gain access to test results or track your overall well-being. Patients are now receiving test results digitally directly from the testing center to their email address. These results are sent to the patient and their doctor so that they have a copy and can review the patient’s results, collaboratively as a unit. Even patients with limited or more minor health concerns can track their health using their smartwatch and smartphone apps, allowing them to continuously regulate their activity, heart rate, sleep, stress, diet and nutrition.

Availability of online clinical studies

Healthcare professionals are consistently keeping up to date with best practices and new guidelines. With access to the internet, patients are able to obtain similar information that their healthcare provider has access to. With this information, patients can come better prepared for appointments with their practitioners and ask meaningful and informed questions about their treatment and care. For instance, The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) are reputable sources for clinical data authored by esteemed professionals in the healthcare field.

Drawbacks of Online Resources

Gateway to misinformation or fake news

There are articles upon articles flooding the internet everyday with real and fake news. Sometimes access to too much information is not a good thing. Fads and trends may seem like a good idea after you are bombarded with constant overexposure, however it’s always best to consult your healthcare professional before making any significant lifestyle changes. 

Fosters an inflated sense of expertise

Recently, some practitioners have found that giving patients access to too much information via the internet, can elicit more complicated and difficult conversations. Sometimes patients will arrive at an appointment with their own research and confidence in their condition from relying on untrustworthy sources. It’s important for patients to feel empowered and research their own care, however the practitioners need to be respected for their medical training, knowledge and expertise when determining what is best for a patient’s health condition and overall well-being.

Undermines the role of healthcare providers

With access to a multitude of websites and potential resources on the internet, oftentimes patients believe they are able to self-diagnose, therefore avoiding a visit with their practitioner. When patients have a valid health concern or on-going symptoms, the best thing to do will always be to visit their trusted healthcare provider to determine the certainty of their condition. After all, there is no YouTube video that gives you the tools to navigate an open heart surgery!

With the role technology plays in our everyday lives, it’s important to acknowledge the internet’s harmful effects as thoughtfully as we acknowledge its positive impacts. As a patient, taking the wheel and navigating your own healthcare journey can feel intimidating. Next time you talk to your healthcare professional, ask them how you can be more involved and if they are able to provide you with resources they recommend, making your collaboration with them a more empowering, positive experience for the both of you.

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