This isn’t a discussion on your search history (so you can all take a breath). Although I’m a big fan of search engines and finding accurate information to help you understand a diagnosis, I also know that a plethora of wrong information is just as accessible.
Patients are often told not to Google things after a discussion with their doctor, and of course, being the humans we are, we will go and do precisely the opposite. (Don’t deny it, we’ve all done it!)
Don’t get me wrong though – I think access to good information is important, just like having strong, evidence based communities These are vital in any diagnosis, and can help patients discover treatment options, find peer support and even understand their situation clearly because of sharing lived experiences.
What this post is about though is actively encouraging care providers, family members, and doctors to ask patients about what they have been looking at online in relation to their diagnosis, and what they’re learning in the communities.
But why is this important?
It comes down to this- it gives you insight into the information that is accessible, and how reliable it is. You can actively discuss what they’ve discovered online, help them process the information, and even sort it into fact and fiction.
Online communities can be dominated by one country or region of the world – guidelines and regulations that are important for them may not be relevant to your own country. Screening may be different, and treatment options may vary due to differences in drug regulation, training, and access. This can lead to valuable conversations about the reasons these differences exist, and also reassurance for the patient that the standard of care they are receiving is of a high standard according to their own situation.
It also gives you as a care provider a chance to see what information is available to patients online and discuss its accuracy. (And it can be a learning opportunity – no one is a better expert on their own rare diseases than patients at times 😉 ).
It’s about really opening those communication channels, and talking with patients about what their concerns are. The chances are, if they’re googling, they’re curious and need more information, or they need some extra support in understanding their diagnosis. This is where you can step in and help them understand more, provide suggestions for additional support, and most importantly, build that important trusting relationship that should exist between doctor and patient.
So, What Have You Googled Recently?
Add this question into your routine checkups with patients. Discuss with them what they’ve found, talk about the information and help them understand why it is or isn’t valid. By extension, reach out to the communities and talk with them about the information they provide. (I promise, we don’t bite and we’re usually pretty excited to hear from you).
It’s an opportunity for you to open those conversations and talk with your patients, and even look at the information together so you both can learn.
Most importantly, it’s about building a healthy, trusting relationship and breaking down those white coat barriers.