Written by Amber Taufen, MGMA assistant editor
Before Google, hypochondriacs had to flip through books or drill their physicians about what their symptoms could mean. Now anyone, not just hypochondriacs, can type their symptoms into a search engine and get a list of potential diseases and conditions they could be suffering from.
A February 2011 study indicates that eight out of 10 people use the web to search for health information, but only 25 percent of these searchers verify the credibility of the information they are reading. This can potentially spark arguments between providers and patients, extra-long appointment times because patients arrive with a stack of website print-offs and the potential for non-compliant patients who trust the web over their provider.
Here are a few ways to deal with self-diagnosers in your practice:
- Remind providers to be empathetic with cyber- or hypochondriacs. To them, their symptoms are real, and not taking their concerns seriously will frustrate them more. Praise patients for staying informed and be willing to discuss the information they bring with them.
- Recognize that patients are bombarded with mentions of potential medical problems through social media and advertising. It is not unreasonable for them to reference Facebook or Wikipedia during an appointment.
- Encourage your providers to ask patients at each visit how they use Internet resources for their health. These questions could include:
- “There are a number of ways to treat psoriasis. What medications or treatments have you heard or read about?”
- “When you first noticed these headaches, did you do any research before scheduling an appointment?”
- Provide resources for your patients that will ensure they go to your practice for advice instead of to a search engine. Or, teach your patients to search correctly using credible websites and sources, and share with them ways to identify unreliable sources. For example:
- Pharmaceutical websites, medical device websites or websites with a lot of testimonials but little scientific information are all warning signs that you’re looking at an unreliable source.
- Website advertisements can be disguised as content, so watch out for mentions of products or links to websites outside of the original source.
- Patients might seek information from the web because they don’t trust their provider’s advice or they feel as though their concerns were not taken seriously. Evaluate the provider-trust relationship in your practice, and encourage the front office and clinical staff to show trust in the providers.
- Be clear with patients about any potential side effects of new medications — or any symptoms they might experience as part of a condition you’ve already diagnosed. If your patients are warned that they might experience dizziness on a certain medication, then they will be less likely to Google their symptoms to see what pops up.
Read more about cyberchondria in last month’s issue of MGMA Connexion magazine.
How do you handle self-diagnosing patients in your practice? Share with us in the comments section below.