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Data overload: Doctors say patients come into office misinformed

Patients all too often read unreliable sources of medical information and assume the worst-case scenario.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

The proliferation of online medical information has affected the frequency and nature of patient/physician interactions, oftentimes making the nature of physicians' jobs more challenging.

Those are the findings of a survey released by Merck Manuals. The survey of 240 family physicians, conducted at a recent industry conference, revealed that 82 percent of respondents say patients are contacting their office or nurse's line with medical questions more frequently due to the increased availability of medical information online in recent years.

The problem? Not all of the information patients find online are accurate.

IMPACT

A full 97 percent of doctors said patients come into the office with misinformation. And almost 90 percent of family physicians believe this trend has affected the frequency of patient visits.

Respondents differed in their perceptions, however. For instance, 60 percent said patients come into the office more frequently because they read about symptoms or treatments online; 29 percent said patients visit the office less frequently for the same reason; and 11 percent said online medical information has not affected the frequency of patient visits.

Often, the root of any issues that arise are due to patients reading information and assuming the worst-case scenario, rather than the most common scenarios.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents said the availability of medical information online has made patients more likely to question their diagnoses or recommendations.

WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW

When it comes to physicians turning to digital tools in their own practices, 83 percent of respondents say they regularly confirm treatments or diagnoses using an online medical resource. Eighty-nine percent say that regular access to medical information online makes them more confident during patient interactions.

THE TREND

The internet has transformed the practice of medicine, particularly as the industry becomes more consumer-oriented. The majority of consumers consult online resources, for example, when searching for a new provider.

Patients also use the technology to post online reviews of providers, which has brand reputation implications as healthcare shifts to a model that more closely resembled the retail industry.

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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