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The Impact of the Internet on Doctor-Patient Relationships
What should you do when your doctor doesn't want to listen?
What should you do when your doctor doesn't want to listen?
©iStockphoto.com/SandiMako

­Traditionally, the doctor-patient relationship has been one in which the doctor is the main source of information about a patient's diagnosis and treatment. This standard is altered when patients seek to inform themselves via the Internet and wish to act as more of a partner in their own care. The change has been met with some resistance from the physician community, since the information found on the Internet is often unreliable. The Microsoft study found that many participants largely ignored the source of the information they found, focusing instead on the information itself. Information on the Internet isn't regulated, which can create a challenge for doctors treating misinform­ed patients who believe what they read on the Internet instead of their doctor's opinion. In addition, the limitations of insurance can result in a lack of financial compensation to the physician for the additional work that a patient armed with a sheaf of Internet printouts can create.

More progressive physicians believe that the Internet offers opportunities to improve the doctor-patient relationship by having the patient share the responsibility for his or her care. Smarter patients equal better patients. A Harris online poll found that patients who use the Internet to search for information about their health are more likely to ask informed questions and are more likely to comply with their prescribed treatment.

Dr. Jared Dart, an Australian health consultant, offers a suggestion for maintaining a positive doctor-patient relationship: Health professionals should prescribe information as they would medication, in order to keep the Internet a way to manage health information instead of a self-diagnosis tool. In the meantime, here are some tips to increase the likelihood of getting the credible health information that you seek:

  • Rather than using general search engines such as Google, try a health-related search engine with symptom checker components.
  • Look for information on nonprofit health sites in the United States, such as the Center for Information Therapy and Healthwise, or government sites in the U.K. such as the National Health Service.
  • Search for information on specialty sites created by well-funded medical research charities, such as the American Cancer Society or Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
  • Ask your doctor for credible Web sites where you can more thoroughly research your diagnosis or symptoms.
  • If Internet search results leave you feeling perpetually anxious about your health, make an appointment to see a health care provider.

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