Googling helps patients gain more from consultations

Patients who search for health information online can gain more from consultations and do not believe it undermines the relationship with their doctor, research suggests.

Information from the internet can help improve use of consultation, patients believe
Information from the internet can help improve use of consultation, patients believe

People who searched for health advice on the internet and brought information to their consultation said it helped them make better use of the visit. But they said they still valued and trusted their GP's opinion more than online information.

Other patients said they believed some GPs mistrusted the information they brought along, and appeared to feel threatened by it.

Lead researcher Dr Parvathy Bowes of University College London said: 'GPs should feel encouraged by the findings, knowing that patients value their clinical expertise and that their existing communication skills of listening to patients and engaging with their agenda can help them respond appropriately to patients.'

Researchers interviewed 26 patients about one positive and one negative experience of taking health information from the internet to their consultations. Most patients said they used this information so the GP took their problem seriously, and to make the best use of the consultation.

Patients preferred it when GPs acknowledged their concerns and the information they had found, and allowed it to inform further discussion. But some GPs rejected the information, or were unwilling to admit their lack of knowledge on the topic. Others worried their doctor felt threatened by this information.

Professor Roger Jones, editor of the British Journal of General Practice which published the study, said more GPs were using internet-acquired information to engage patients.

'It is very encouraging to see patients taking an interest in their health and the internet can be a useful means of finding out more about health concerns,' he said.

'It would be wrong to disregard the efforts patients are making to do this, but GPs will also advise caution because there are a lot of dubious sites providing information that is not based on evidence, which can be quite misleading when taken out of context.'

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