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Doctors, patients and the Internet

March 27, 2010 |  7:00 am

I think most people appreciate using the Internet for accessing health information. But an editorial published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that at least some doctors aren't as comfortable with the technology and the way it has altered doctor-patient interactions.

Internet In their commentary, Dr. Pamela Hartzband and Dr. Jerome Groopman, both from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, write that the Internet's "profound effects derive from the fact that while previous technologies have been fully under doctors' control, the Internet is equally in the hands of patients. Such access is redefining the roles of physicians and patients."

Having your role redefined in such a dramatic way has to be a bit disconcerting for doctors. But the effect of the Internet on patient care can be viewed as positive or negative, as the editorial points out. On one hand, the Internet has given consumers important information to help them make good healthcare decisions and improve quality of care. On the other hand, there are many myths and false assertions on the Internet that can lead people astray. Hartzband and Groopman point out that patients can now access their lab test results online in some medical centers. But, in doing so, they receive information without their doctor's input or any context. Doctors and patients can exchange e-mails to facilitate communications, they note. But doctors aren't paid for that activity.

The authors argue that the Internet should not change the "core relationship" of face-to-face doctor-patient communication that relies on what doctor and patient bring to the table. "The doctor, in our view, will never be optional," they write.

I agree. And patient knowledge and empowerment, afforded by the Internet and other resources, will never slide back to those old days when only the doctor's brains and opinion counted.

-- Shari Roan

Glenn Koenig  /  Los Angeles Times

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Comments (3)

The reason that so many people are using the Internet for health is because that physicians often do not have the time to spend with patients to answer all their questions. It's easier to treat the condition than the patient. Even with record number of people using the Internet for health research indicates that the physician is still the gatekeeper and that patients will do what their physician recommends. However we are also seeing more and more patients who question treatments because to them they want a better quality of life and if treatment interferes with that than they question its use. The Internet gives patients information that they can use to discuss options with their health care professionals.

how about if doctors and patients used something like "skype",or another service ,where a video camera and mic were used-to assure the person you were talking to was who you thought you were-instead of a faker..
-i'm on pain meds,where i have to make a office visit-each month-to get my meds..this could save both of us a lot of time-gas-wear and tear,traffic,etc..especially for those who are "diffrently enabled",getting to and from,just to have your blood pressure and temp checked(sometging that could be done at home -with simple-affordable devices today)-might save everyome lots of time and limited resources?? just of thought!?!

The real concern comes from the mixture of correct and incorrect healthcare information available. How can a GP be sure what they are reading online is correct in comparison to picking up an industry recongised textbook?

Likewise what happens if patients one day have GP's email addresses? Will it soon be a case of them having to crawl through every sniffle and itch in order to help those emails really in need?


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