Your patients are online. You are online. How many of these scenarios ring true?
Explore This IssueACEP Now: Vol 39 – No 03 – March 2020
- “I did an internet search, and I think I may have dengue fever.”
- “Did you see that Facebook post on that crazy case last night in the emergency department?”
- “I saw that Yelp review about you. Ouch.”
- “How did that patient get my personal email?”
The internet can be a great tool, but it can also complicate our practice and have far-reaching consequences if we aren’t careful with the information we share. Here are some tips for managing the internet’s influence on our patient interactions and professional reputations.
First, let’s take a look at how we can best respond to our patients’ online self-education.
Dealing with patients (or their family members) who come to the emergency department prepared with their own diagnosis based on an internet search can be challenging. Layperson misinterpretation and self-diagnosis can start things off on the wrong foot, especially if it feels like patients have an agenda or think they can replace us with an internet search. If improperly handled, this can immediately introduce distrust into the physician-patient relationship. We need to respond to their questions and theories, but it is crucial to do so without putting them down or alienating them. How can this be achieved?
- Understand patients’ motivations. Patients who look up information online may actually be interested in learning and want to hear the physician’s thought process. This also gives the physician the opportunity to apply the information to patients’ specific issues.
- Encourage patients. While this may sound counterintuitive, encourage and congratulate patients for taking an interest in their health. Being receptive toward patients’ own online research may help improve their sense of empowerment. In addition, belittling patients and using sarcasm, while immensely personally gratifying, will not earn you any points or improve your ability to personally connect to patients and their families. Remind patients that most of the information they find online is general in scope and that putting their symptoms, clinical examination, and other information you obtain into an appropriate context and possible diagnosis is the goal.
- Consider creating your own online expert content. Patients tend to trust information more when content is easy to read, well-organized, and from authors with medical credentials or other signifiers of authority.
- Refer patients to reliable online resources. If patients are going to head to the internet to self-diagnose, the best thing providers can do is direct them to websites they know give credible medical information. Sites you may consider referring patients to include Mayo Clinic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Next, we’ll talk about how physicians can manage their own internet and social media presences in ways that can improve (and not damage) their careers.