Patients benefit from internet health searches

PATIENTS who research their symptoms on the internet can gain more from their GP consultation, according to a study in the British Journal of General Practice.

Researchers from University College London looked at why some patients bring internet information to consultations and how they felt it affected the doctor-patient relationship.

Of the 26 patients interviewed, most said they felt internet research showed they were taking their symptoms and their own health seriously, but most said they still valued their GP’s opinion over the internet information.

The study showed the reaction of doctors varied. Some patients said their GP listened and acknowledged the concerns raised through their internet reading and that the doctor provided professional opinion and support. They added that they felt their relationship with their GP had been strengthened as a result.

However a number of patients felt their doctor “disregarded” the information or had been “unwilling to admit their lack of knowledge”. Others worried that the doctors had felt “undermined or threatened” and that they had to be careful about how they presented the information.

BJGP editor Professor Roger Jones said: “While this study is based on a relatively small number of patients, it is likely to be indicative of what most GPs are seeing in their consultations every day. Patients of all ages use the internet and many now attend their GP appointment with information that they have researched themselves.

“Whereas GPs might have been sceptical in the past, many are increasingly using this as a way of opening up the discussion and engaging patients, which can lead to a more productive consultation for both patient and GP.

“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. 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.”