Today's web-savvy Healthcare consumers, however, are adept at finding comprehensive and detailed information about their own condition and disease. In many ways, in fact, they have an advantage over the doctor - a patient only has to learn about one particular condition (or a few); whereas a physician, even a specialist, must necessarily cover a far wider range of medical knowledge.
By and large, most doctors are uncomfortable with this sudden shift in patient knowledge level and the potential for second-guessing the doctor's opinion, that goes with it. New research from Microsoft suggests that the doctors may be right!
Microsoft Research has just published an article on this topic: Cyberchondria: Studies of the Escalation of Medical Concerns in Web Search. The study authors found that patients who perform Web Searches about their symptoms, tend to have an exaggerated sense of their illness. Says the article:
However, the Web has the potential to increase the anxieties of people who have little or no medical training, especially when Web search is employed as a diagnostic procedure.
We show that escalation is influenced by the amount and distribution of medical content viewed by users,
Overall, though, this finding is hardly surprising. As any layperson who has ever perused a medical encyclopedia knows, just reading about the specific symptoms for any random disease makes one start to start imagine those very same symptoms - it is part of the human condition! Obviously the same thing happens when patients read medical information online.
At the same time, there is a distinct upside for patient health in having all of this medical information easily available and accessible to all. Informed patients are in a better position to understand what is happening to them; they can handle it better and can take better care of themselves in addressing their own health problems.
In any case, this is a one-way street. The genie is out of the bottle now and patients will be increasingly better-informed in the future. Whether this is preferable or not, physicians had better gear up to deal with this change.