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Why More Patients Are Searching for Medical Answers Online

Why More Patients are Searching for Medical Answers Online

The growth of the internet and social media networking has introduced a whole new era in healthcare. So, it's no surprise individuals are increasingly turning to online healthcare resources. Like it or not, prospective patients may already have an impression of you or your practice before they walk through your door. It is highly likely they have sought recommendations, read reviews about your practice, and even browsed the internet for information about their symptoms or medical condition. It appears this phenomenon will not be going away.

As a healthcare professional, being unable to clearly communicate with your patients can be frustrating. Sometimes, a fifteen-minute office visit is not enough for a full discussion on health issues, let alone to clarify any confusion the patient might have. This may be why more and more patients are turning to the internet. Recent studies have shown around 50% of patients say they frequently search online for health information before seeking healthcare. More than 40% of individuals admit the information they find on social media sites affects the way they deal with their health, and over 41% have stated it affects their choice of healthcare professional or hospital.

Perhaps the reason for exploring symptoms of a particular medical condition or the reputation of a healthcare professional is personal. To most patients, the internet is a necessity, and it offers a safe place to vent and regain control. What’s more, part of the patient’s job is to determine their level of trust and confidence in their healthcare provider. What better way to do this than to first do a little bit of research online?

Social media engagement presents a powerful opportunity for you to educate, influence, and provide trustworthy content. There are thousands of blogs and forums where patients discuss their experiences living with HIV, depression, or cancer. Over 60% of individuals who use social media say they are most likely to trust content created by healthcare professionals over any other group. In other words, patients will always be looking for the most accurate information and for a healthcare professional they can trust. This is where you come in. 

Social media offers you the chance to become a reliable source of information for patients. Being engaged puts you in the best position to weigh information, advise patients, and draw on their understanding of available information online. You can explore and provide meaningful and useful content to show you are passionate about the work you do. Moreover, you can make a good first impression by paying attention to what you put online. Look at it from this perspective: social media allows patients to post their complaints, doubts, and fears online (things they would be hesitant to say in person). So, if you have made a bad impression, wouldn't you want to know about it? Wouldn’t you want to try to learn from it and fix it?

Now more than ever, medical knowledge is expanding at a rapid rate, and the more knowledge patients possess, the easier it is for them to discuss their medical conditions with their doctors. If you want to break down the informational walls that separate patients from doctors, social media is the way to do it. However, a lot of the health information on the internet is not credible. In fact, acting on inaccurate medical content can be dangerous. This is how you can help patients interpret and decipher what is accurate on the internet and what isn’t.

With over 57 million Americans reading blogs and 120 million using social media, the internet can present a compelling opportunity for you to better interact with patients. You can share images, vital signs, medications, patient medical records, and much more with colleagues over the internet. Patients can even track their medical conditions using an online portal which you can also access and provide individualized treatment plans. Thus, they gain the ability to ask quick questions, all the while saving time, cost, and effort.

Quality medical care requires a doctor-patient dialogue that doesn’t simply end once the patient has left the exam room. While standards of care online do need to be established by professional medical societies, in the meantime, you should embrace social media as a way to continue to converse. Social media networking puts a greater emphasis on engagement and information-sharing among professional colleagues and patients. They are always utilizing the internet to self-diagnose, get second opinions, research a healthcare professional, seek out a recommended treatment, or find the latest information on a particular medical condition. You have the opportunity to take advantage of these communication channels and influence the behavior of those who have decided to trust you.

The last thing you should do is shut down patients’ online searches. You can help guide patients, families, and friends to trusted and valuable sources and confirm the results of their online reading. The rise of smartphones and advanced internet connectivity offers numerous methods to communicate, so find your social media voice! Your patients are listening, and your responsibility as a healthcare professional is to advocate for them and for the future of healthcare. It can be expected that, here in the 21st century, physicians will be joining patients online.