Searching for Health Info On-Line and Needing a Prescription for Good Judgement

04.02.2012, 11:35 AM

So I started thinking last week of how patients and caregivers searching the internet for healthcare information will change not only the patient/physician relationship but also how the physician creates a treatment or care plan for us or our loved ones.

A recent Pew Report shows that 59% percent of adults search the internet for health information, making that activity (searching for health information) the third highest ranked on-line activity behind checking e-mail and general search engine use. The report traces the profile of those who tend to seek health information on-line, and caregivers outstrip them all:

“The word “caregivers” is used throughout this report to refer to people who, in the past 12 months, have provided unpaid care to a parent, child, friend, or other loved one. Unpaid care for an adult may include help with personal needs or household chores, managing finances, arranging for outside services, or visiting regularly to see how they are doing. Unpaid care to a child includes care for an ongoing or serious short-term condition, emotional or behavioral problems, or developmental problems.

Seventy-nine percent of caregivers have access to the internet. Of those, 88% look online for health information.

Caregivers distinguish themselves in this study as people focused on health information. They outpace other internet users when it comes to researching every single health topic included in the survey, often by double-digit margins.”

However, the profile is quite extensive in terms of college-education, access to broad band, generation, etc. The one page synopsis can be read here.

But what benefit does searching for and finding health information on-line have?  Any?  Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician, writes an insightful piece last week about how to use on-line health information with your physician.  I am not sure if this term was coined by her but she explains how doctors can be wary of “cyber-chondriacs.”  Her term resonated with me since I’ve seen in hospice how there is something so suggestive in the human brain that inevitably everyone on the team presumes that they are dying of something simply because we are always exposed to people dying of something. I have a headache, so I naturally presume I have mesothelioma despite the fact that I have never been exposed to asbestos and have no reason to believe I have cancer and a simple ibuprofen takes care of the problem.  I guess this could be called a reverse-placebo effect where merely learning about diseases leads you to believe you have them. Cyber-chondriacs.

At the end of the day, Dr. Burgert thinks we just need to use good judgement, which I agree with and think is a wise course of action but I also smile.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could be prescribed “good judgement” like we are prescribed antibiotics?  Tell me there’s not someone in your life who couldn’t benefit and be so much healthier with a steady dose of good judgement.  I’d sign up for that trial any day!

One Response to “Searching for Health Info On-Line and Needing a Prescription for Good Judgement”

  1. Jake says:

    When my mother had cancer was was hospitalized, I was there with her for the same reason that any care giver is–in the end the best advocates for the patient are always the patient and their family. Thank goodness for the internet and other tools we can use to make our experience with health care workers equal. I know it probably annoys doctors when we come in with checklists printed out from the Internet, but I don’t care. My mom isn’t a case study, she’s a person and she has needs that sometimes they missed.

    (I guess this doesn’t apply to using those resources you use before you’re really sick–those are enough to drive anyone into the looney bin :)