With the growth of available technology and the expansiveness of the internet, patients would inevitably use these resources to self-diagnose. The most common sources patients use include WebMD and Google, and often these sources are not the most accurate. Patient self-diagnosis is something that healthcare providers must deal with regularly. A report from the Pew Research Center states that 35% of U.S. adults have admitted to going online specifically to diagnose themselves or someone they know based on symptoms they perceive they have. According to Google, 1 in 20 searches on their platform are related to healthcare.
With all of this available technology and resources, patient self-diagnosis is often riddled with inaccurate information, according to a 2015 study from Harvard Medical School. Researchers tested this by entering symptoms into online symptom checkers and found that only 34% of the time, these programs yielded an accurate diagnosis.
Many providers’ first reaction is to dismiss a self-diagnosis automatically. Still, the Journal of Participatory Medicine published research that suggests that those patients who self diagnose are more likely to comply with provider care plans. For providers, this is a chance to further engage with their patients, which ultimately leads to better care.
We have provided a few strategies that you, as a physician, can use to help address those patients who self-diagnose on the internet.
Tell Patients to Keep Searching Online
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, providers can mitigate many of the issues that present themselves when a patient self-diagnoses by leaning into the matter. When you encourage them to keep searching online, it helps to validate their want to be in control of their health outcomes. Starting with this bit of mental back and forth helps to create the ability for providers to have much more success with patient self-diagnosis. This, in turn, allows for better conversations during examinations and deeper levels of trust. You can also encourage patients to dive deeper into their self-diagnosis so it can become more accurate and hopefully cause less unnecessary worry.
Provide Patients Reliable Resources for Self Diagnosis
If your patients are going to self-diagnose, then the best thing for providers to do is to help direct them to websites that can provide them with websites that can give them credible medical information. Sites that you could suggest may include The Mayo Clinic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Academy of Family Physicians. These websites help by offering a combination of accurate and easy to comprehend information. The National Library of Medicine also has a full page of links on how to find and evaluate health information online. Offering these beneficial resources helps to decrease the likelihood that a patient receives the wrong information.
Encourage Patients to Discuss Their Research
The final thing you can do to address patient self-diagnosis is to encourage those same patients to discuss their research with you during their exam. This is an excellent opportunity to provide care for what a patient believes they are going through and helping guide them through their anxiety and confusion. Doing this helps to counter any diagnosis that a patient has done that could be misleading, comes from a questionable source, or inaccurate. When having these types of open and honest conversations, you can foster more trust from patients who self-diagnose, in turn allowing them to rely more on your medical advice.
Handling patients who self-diagnose requires a shift in mindset. By embracing patients who choose to take an active role in their care, you are creating strategies that increase communication and education. This connection with your patients helps prevent issues and provides them with the security that you have their care in mind.
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