Tech-savvy patients drive practice changes

March 25, 2011

Are you ready to deal with the vast amount of information available to your patients in just seconds, thanks to technology?

Key Points

A NEW DAY IN INFORMATION TRANSFER

Before the age of the Web and 24/7 connectivity, information came almost exculsively from books, periodicals, or from direct conversation or lectures. The powerful networking technologies available today, along with the Web, hand-held smartphones, and relative ubiquity of high-speed Internet access, information transfer has changed significantly.

Patients make use of this information transfer technology every day for gathering news, shopping, emailing, and now accessing health information. A recent survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project1 found that eight in 10 Web users, or almost 60% of the U.S. adult population, look online for health information, making it the third most popular online pursuit among all those tracked by the project, following emailing and using a search engine.

As a result of the tremendous amount of research many patients do, they are becoming "medical end users," as described eloquently by Tom Ferguson.2 Interestingly, the number of searches using the National Library of Medicine's Medline database increased from 7 million in 1996 to 120 million the following year, when it was opened to the public. The new searches were attributed primarily to nonphysicians.3

PATIENTS MORE PROACTIVE

In this new information age, patients with easy access to just about any health-related information are becoming more proactive in their quest for good health and longevity. The Web and mobile technology have made professional literature easily accessible to the lay public, enabling patients to become more knowledgeable and to research common health conditions before a doctor visit.

Because of these developments, patients are able to walk away from an appointment with a much richer understanding of both their current health conditions and ways to prevent future problems. Approximately two-thirds of patients seeking health information on the Web say that the information they obtained improved their understanding of the disease process that they researched.4

Care providers would do well to recognize the added value of conversations with well-informed patients and not try to compete with them for mastery of facts or become defensive. In fact, patients often welcome suggestions of online resources. In one study, 67% of patients in a community-based primary care practice agreed that clinicians should recommend specific Web sites where they could find health information.5

Clinicians can encourage patients to bring them information while counseling them on the quality of sources, weighing their validity, and putting facts in context. Doing so may require setting aside time to review the information.