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Sharing Internet Health Information With Your Doctor

How to Start a Discussion About What You've Read Online


Updated May 21, 2009

Discuss internet info with your doctor

How to Discuss Internet information with your doctor.


Have you tried to share health information you found on the Internet with your doctor? Was it well received? Or did he get upset? Share your experience and your ideas from the link at the bottom of this page.

Between 79 and 87% of Internet users spend time searching for health and medical information, according to Pew Internet, a group that studies these kinds of things. Yet, when we patients try to share that information with our doctors, we are often frustrated by the experience. Sometimes our doctors are curt or dismissive. Sometimes they even get angry. Even if they don't say so in so many words, all we need to do is watch their body language to know we've rubbed them the wrong way.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't be researching health topics online, nor does it mean we shouldn't discuss our findings with our doctors.

What it does mean is that we need a process that will help us find information worth sharing, then a way to approach our doctors to keep them from getting upset.

Why Don't Doctors Want Us Researching Our Medical Problems?

There are a handful of consistent complaints:

  • Many doctors believe the information patients find isn't credible. To their point, there are millions of websites that aren't. But there are also millions that offer excellent information. Wise patients know to stick to those websites that offer the most reliable information.

  • Doctors also believe that too many patients find information that is out-of-date. Wise patients know to find the most recent information available about any given health topic. Finding the date a paper was written, for example, helps discern how current that information is.

  • Doctors get as frustrated as patients about the short amount of time they can allot to any given patient during an appointment, the length of which is often dictated by your health insurance. Today, visits are usually only intended to last 8 to 10 minutes.

  • Patients may scare themselves with the information they find. Patients who research a recommended drug might be frightened by a list of side effects, then not take the drug as prescribed. Or they begin to suffer a symptom, look it up, and are scared it's something far beyond what it really is. For example, a tremor simply caused by low blood sugar is thought to be Parkinson's disease.

  • Hypochondria is rampant on the Internet. Known as "cyberchondria," patients research various diseases and conditions, then begin applying their own feelings to whatever they have read. Normal, everyday aches and pains get blown out of proportion. Appointments with their doctors are futile, and a waste of everyone's time.

A Collaborative Approach to Sharing Internet Health Information with Your Doctor

Begin by understanding your doctor's point of view. If you've ever raised a child, then you know how insulting it can be for someone who has never had children to tell you how to raise them. That's how your doctor may feel. He spent many years in medical school and probably has even more years of experience. When a patient begins spouting knowledge learned on a website, it can be insulting, even intimidating to him. If you act as though you know more than he does because you've spent an hour or two surfing the web, then you can see why he would be put off.

Understanding that point of view, it will come as no surprise to learn that your best approach will be to muster up every ounce of tact you can find.

DOs for Sharing Internet Health Information

  • DO understand the value of sharing only new and different information you've found with your doctor. There's no sense wasting your time, or his, with the basics he has already reviewed with you.

  • DO believe, and plan to share, only information found on credible health websites.

  • DO make sure that any new and different information you find can be replicated on at least a second credible website, if not more.

  • DO make a bulleted list of your findings so you can run through them quickly during your appointment. If you want to print out the information, do so, but only to make sure you can find the citation again.

  • DO approach your doctor politely, perhaps by asking a question to start, such as, "Dr. Smith, I know many doctors don't like their patients to research their health problems on the Internet, but may I take just a minute to discuss information I found?" That becomes an acknowledgment of the doctor's possible reluctance, plus a recognition that time is short.

  • DO ask your doctor to tell you what websites he thinks can be helpful to you. That's a collaborative approach that acknowledges that you plan to spend time learning more, plus a respectful recognition of the fact that he is the one who has spent his career learning about your diagnosis and other related ones.

DON'Ts for Sharing Internet Health Information

  • DON'T take up too much of your appointment time by reviewing Internet information. After all, it's your body and its problems that you made an appointment to review, not Internet information.

  • DON'T imply that the Internet "knows" more than your doctor does. Even if it's true, you'll get nowhere with such an implication. Your doctor will tune you out, and it will affect your care.

  • DON'T make extra copies of Internet findings to share with your doctor. He doesn't have time to read them, and the information is probably not new to him anyway. If he asks you for a copy, he can make his own from yours, or you can write down the web address for him to access later.

If you've taken these steps and you find that your doctor is still unreceptive to you sharing this sort of information, you'll have to decide whether it bothers you enough to change doctors. After all, you and your doctor should be working in partnership. Your assessment of his ability to communicate, especially when you have been so tactful in your approach, will go a long way toward telling you whether or not that particular doctor can help you achieve your best outcome.

Additional Reading:

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