Patients do trust their doctor’s advice but still like to consult the Internet to get better educated and play an active role in their care, according to a new University of California, Davis study.
For the study, researchers surveyed more than 500 people who were members of online support groups and had scheduled appointments with a physician.
“We found that mistrust was not a significant predictor of people going online for health information prior to their visit,” said Xinyi Hu, who co-authored the study as part of her master’s thesis in communication.
“This was somewhat surprising and suggests that doctors need not be defensive when their patients come to their appointments armed with information taken from the Internet.”
The researchers observed how the participants made use of support groups, other Internet resources, and offline sources of information, including traditional media and social relations, before going to their medical appointments.
The study showed no evidence that the Internet researchers had any less trust in their doctors than patients who did not seek online information.
“The Internet has become a mainstream source of information about health and other issues,” Hu noted. “Many people go online to get information when they anticipate a challenge in their life. It makes sense that they would do the same when dealing with a health issue.”
Even though a mistrust of doctors did not predict Internet research before the doctor’s appointment, several other factors did. For example, patients were more likely to go online when their health situation was distressful or when they felt they had some level of personal control over their illness.
Online research was also higher among patients who thought their illness was probably long-term.
The findings also showed that Internet health information did not replace more traditional sources. Instead, patients used the Internet to supplement offline sources, such as friends, health news reports and reference books.
“With the growth of online support groups, physicians need to be aware that many of their patients will be joining and interacting with these groups. These patients tend to be very active health-information seekers, making use of both traditional and new media,” said the authors.
Nearly 70 percent of the participants said they were planning to ask their doctor questions about the information they found, and about 40 percent said they had printed out information to take with them to discuss with their doctors.
Over 50 percent of patients said they wanted to make at least one request of their doctor on the basis of Internet information.
“As a practicing physician, these results provide some degree of reassurance,” said co-author Richard L. Kravitz, a UC Davis Health System professor of internal medicine and study co-author. “The results mean that patients are not turning to the Internet out of mistrust; more likely, Internet users are curious information seekers who are just trying to learn as much as they can before their visit.”
The study was published in the Journal of Health Communication.
Source: University of California