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When Patients Befriend Dr. Google

Friday, January 30, 2015
Geri Lynn Baumblatt, MA, Executive Director of Patient Engagement, Emmi
Co-author: Kerry O’Connell, a construction executive from Denver, CO
For mKerry O'Connellany patients, the Internet becomes their best friend. They spend evenings searching for cures for damaged nerves. When Kerry O’Connell fell off a ladder and destroyed his arm, and when surgeries and treatments failed and made his pain and function even worse, he went, as most of us do, to look for answers online.
 
When showing this online research to his physician, he was advised to be careful as much of that info was not reliable. Fair warning, but when people are searching for answers and trying to collaborate in their care, they’re often dismissed and made to feel like they overstepped.
 
Kerry found out he could access medical journals from the med school library. For his next visit he came armed not with flimsy Google search results, but real studies. His doctor was not impressed, saying even studies from last year were out of date and nowhere near the current state of the medical art.
 

People are searching for a reason

It’s often a sign they feel uneasy and don’t have the answers they need. It’s also an opportunity to find out what those are. In Kerry’s case, he was looking for alternatives to more surgery, drug side effects, better descriptions of typical outcomes, and empathy from others who had gone through the same thing.
 
Anytime we can provide patient-friendly resources that proactively answer these questions, it can help keep people from going down those online rabbit holes.
 
But people can also find meaningful information. Sometimes it’s the empathy and support from connecting with others. Other times, people like Dave deBronkart can find out about a medical treatment for his rare cancer by talking to an online patient forum. A treatment his physicians didn’t know about at the time.
 
As patients and families increasingly turn to online resources, how do you help them find the good ones? And how do you work with them?



Kerry O’Connell is a construction executive from Denver, Colorado, who builds infrastructure by day and lobbies the healthcare industry by night. His favorite causes include infection prevention, medical device training and creating a post-harm standard of care. His articles have appeared in places like Health Affairs, and he regularly provides the patient perspective at conferences like the Summer Institute for Informed Patient Choice.

Tags: patient engagement, doctor's appointment, personal healthcare
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