Four Ways to Help Patients Find Reliable Online Health Information

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Most physicians agree that we have an ethical obligation to help educate our patients about what’s going on with their health, but what does that look like in a world overwhelmed with digital health information? And how do we budget appropriate time when we’re already struggling to balance shorter appointment times, more documentation requirements, and busier clinic schedules?

It’s estimated that 72 percent of patients get a majority of their health information online. With an abundance of biased and incorrect information on the Internet, our responsibility as physicians has evolved from simply teaching patients about their health conditions to now include educatingpatients on where and how to find and identify reliable health information.

This premise goes back to why I use social media. We have a responsibility to share, or at the very least be cognizant of, reliable health information in the realm where our patients seek it. In the old days that looked like an exam room; today it looks like a Google search.

Here are four ways to efficiently help ensure patients have the resources they need to find reliable health information, despite cramped clinic visits and time constraints.

Ask: How can you possibly know where patients find their information if you don’t ask? I have patients come in with birth plans all the time and quite frequently they’ve printed them out from a website with little-to-no additional research into the (often very specific) things they’ve requested. You can’t possibly know or understand their views unless you ask.

Take Two: I understand how limited our time is – I’m a resident with a busy clinic and short, often over-booked appointment slots. But taking two minutes to discuss reliable health information with your patients has great potential for improving patient care and decreasing un-needed visits and calls.

Prep: Have pre-written, condition-specific information for your patients and include curated links to additional reliable information for those who may want it. It’s as simple as a “dot-phrase” on most major EMR systems or a copy/paste file you can quickly email or print.

Encourage: Encourage your patients to take control of their health by being informed.Encourage them to ask questions and explain things back to you, so you’re certain they have a grasp on it. Encourage them to share what they’ve learned in their searches.


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