The Harmful Effects of "Dr. Google" on Doctor-Patient Encounters

Clearstep Media
Clearstep Team

It’s no small secret in the medical industry that more patients are turning to the internet for medical assistance. When misinformation is rampant, staying in sync with your client base can be tricky.

Maintaining a sustainable healthcare organization means developing trust with your patients. Failing to meet their needs or answer their questions encourages them to turn to other sources.  According to Pew Research Center, seven out of ten Americans rely on social media for news or connection. That means, you can’t neglect a strong digital presence.

How do you mitigate the effects of “Dr. Google” on doctor-patient encounters? We have a few tips to ensure you’re staying on the same page with your patients.

Technology and medicine need to evolve equally. We established Clearstep to provide improved consumer-facing technologies for medical facilities.

The Prevalence of Medical Misinformation

Before we dive into the most common risks associated with medical misinformation, let’s first define the term. Medical misinformation is a catch-all phrase for receiving medical information from unqualified sources.

The field of medicine is built on ongoing research rooted in science and data. Sadly, the complexity of this field sometimes causes friction between doctors and patients. Patients who feel they haven’t been properly diagnosed/treated or aren’t able to get their questions answered will turn to the internet. 
According to recent studies, the most misunderstood medical topics today revolve around HPV, vaccinations and dieting, however, medical misinformation can occur with any topic. As patients continue to rely on unqualified opinions from a forum or a friend, this risk will keep growing at an astronomical rate.

Related: What are the roles of APPs in healthcare? Our guide will break down this important feature.

Self-Diagnosis Using Google

The first form of medical misinformation is attempting to achieve a diagnosis with Google. Frequent tactics in this area include looking up symptoms online, talking with non-clinical peers, chatting with others on forums, or watching videos on YouTube.

The reasons behind self-diagnosis are understandable for a few reasons. When doctors misdiagnose a patient, he or she becomes frustrated or scared. Likewise, medical discrimination may play a part in a patient not receiving adequate care. When a doctor-patient encounter is hampered by misinformation, the damaging cycle of mistrust continues. 

Self-diagnosis isn’t only the case for serious medical issues. Minor conditions run a particularly high risk for home remedies, some of which can be harmful. For example, a patient may attempt to treat a mild eczema flare-up with bleach instead of seeing a dermatologist. Another patient may try to take excessive amounts of a supplement all at once or buy strange products online instead of consulting a licensed professional.

These patients may eventually find themselves in the emergency room being treated for a more severe condition. The snowball effect of self-diagnosis is a real issue and is also a challenge that your organization should strive to mitigate. 

Risks Of Self-Diagnosis

Self-diagnosis is extremely risky for several reasons. When a patient decides they have a certain condition without a qualified second opinion, they open themselves up to harm.

While it’s one thing to be wrong about having a minor skin condition, it’s another thing to be wrong about cancer. Failing to receive an accurate diagnosis on time puts a patient at risk for a condition that can escalate into a life threatening situation. This snowball effect adds up financially, mentally, and physically.

While it’s important to note that online information can be a helpful place to start, it shouldn’t be the only resource. The internet is a tool that needs to be used carefully, but it’s often mismanaged. When patient care is starting to resemble popular online spaces, it’s time to make a change.

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Social Media vs. Google in the Healthcare Space

We have mentioned that most people use social media on a regular basis. Even if a patient primarily relies on “Dr. Google” for healthcare guidance, there’s a high chance they also browsed Twitter or Facebook.

Social media is a beneficial tool for medical companies to increase transparency in their business model. Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn can be used to communicate with patients on a case-by-case basis. Simple features like answering common questions or improving follow-up methods go a long way. 

The downside of social media is the chatter, misinformation, and difficulty regulating the online space. When Twitter stands as the ninth most visited site in the world, it’s impossible to overlook this factor in your value strategy.

Related: Virtual care is growing by the minute. Here’s why you should update your virtual care strategy!

Is It Beneficial To Use Google To Check Symptoms of Illness?

We believe Google can be a practical starting point for patients to narrow down their symptoms before reaching out to a doctor. Relying on Google or social media exclusively is another story.

The effect of relying on “Dr. Google” for doctor-patient encounters is harmful for many reasons. Patients run the risk of depending on misinformation and rejecting more qualified opinions. Similarly, doctors may spend more time debunking false information than providing adequate care. Multiple parties end up confused and frustrated thanks to medical misinformation.

Your ability to puncture internet noise stems from your consistent, transparent marketing strategy. When you treat digital resources like a tool and not a crutch, you’re already a step ahead of the competition.

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