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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