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Do doctors know what patients know?

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Do doctors know what patients know?

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For much of medical history, the physician has held all of the cards when it comes to information and knowledge.  You would go to the doctor and more often than not have little information to accompany you, and little choice but to blindly follow whatever your doctor told you.  That has largely changed in recent years, with recent studies suggesting that as many as 70% of us regularly research our condition before going to the doctors.

The problem is, most of us appear to want to keep that research a secret when we arrive at the doctors.  A Pew study for instance found that around 50% of us will choose to discuss the information we discover about our condition with our doctor, with the main reason for this being either a negative reaction from our doctor, or a perception that one would be forthcoming.

It’s rather an unhealthy situation, especially as research has shown that many doctors themselves are turning to sites such as Wikipedia for information.  Indeed, such is the popularity of the crowd based encyclopaedia that Wikiprojects Medicine was created to ensure that the highest quality information is presented on the site.

If both the doctor and the patient are accessing high quality information prior to the consultation, shouldn’t the whole affair be much more collaborative than it often appears to be?  Do doctors even attempt to understand the information people have consumed prior to the consultation?

With patients increasingly doing their own health research, it would make sense for doctors to take on a more coaching based role whereby they advise patients on the best places to go to online, and indeed warn them if their current sources are in any way unreliable.  This is a crucial role, because whilst there is no doubt an awful lot of good information online, there is also an awful lot of bad advice offered.

For instance, a recent study found that childhood obesity was a hot topic of discussion on Twitter, yet ‘official sources’ were barely included in those discussions at all.  So not only are patients getting information from a much wider range of sources, they are also having health related conversations in places where no health professionals are present.  Greater understanding of these communities would afford professionals much greater insights into where they should target their education efforts.

I wrote only recently about the roll out of an app across the NHS that will allow diabetes patients to input readings that will be sent directly to their doctors, and it seems increasingly likely that newly informed patients will be looking to take such a collaborative approach to their own care and treatment, but there will always be those who take bad advice online, and it’s crucial therefore that professionals are aware of both the good and bad elements of online health information.

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