The Journal of Medical Internet Research has published a paper that reviews existing research on patients’ Internet health information seeking and its influence on the patient-doctor relationship.
They identified 18 articles that met the inclusion criteria and the quality requirement for the review.
The articles revealed barriers, facilitators, and demographic factors that influence patients’ disclosure of online health information during consultations and the different mechanisms patients use to reveal these findings.
In relation to demographics, men were more likely than women to have a conversation regarding online health information with their physicians. The average age of those who shared online information with doctors tended to be higher and they tended to have more children under the age of 18 years.
People in poor health were more likely to talk to their physicians about online health information than were those in good health. Patients who rated themselves as excellent or very good at assessing the reliability of information on the Internet were more likely to take information to their physicians than were those who were not confident in assessing the reliability of Internet information
The paper identified five different strategies used by patients who brought online information to their consultations. These strategies were asking additional questions, making suggestions based on their online findings, directly disclosing online findings, verifying silently without asking any questions, and bringing printouts of online information.
It found three facilitating factors that encouraged patients to discuss online health information with their physicians: (1) having a family member present at doctor visits, (2) doctor-initiated inquiries, and (3) encountering a treatment-related advertisement that suggested talking with a doctor.
The most common barrier to patients’ willingness to discuss their online findings with their physicians during consultations, was that patients were usually sceptical of how physicians would react to the knowledge they acquired through the Internet: patients were afraid doctors would perceive them as challenging doctors’ opinion if they directly revealed their online findings to their doctors.
The second most common barrier for patients was the resistance or discouragement from physicians encountered when patients tried to discuss their Internet information research during consultations.
A third major barrier was the fear of embarrassment. Other reasons included that: some patients did did not think the information was important enough and they searched the Internet just to be informed; a reluctance to interfere with physicians’ diagnostic process; and lack of time during doctor visits
When physicians embrace openness to online information and encourage patients to discuss the online information they have, patients’ perception of physician resistance and fear of embarrassment could be reduced and patients are more likely to discuss online information with their physicians.
The authors conclude that Internet health information seeking can improve the patient-physician relationship, but this is dependent on whether the patient discusses the information with the physician and on their prior relationship.
The full article can be read here.
Tan SSL, Goonawardene N
Internet Health Information Seeking and the Patient-Physician Relationship: A Systematic Review
J Med Internet Res 2017;19(1):e9