More than a third of Americans start with an Internet search to answer medical questions, but only half of those reported that what they found led them to seek help from a medical professional, according to a Pew Research Center study.
The study found that among the 3,000 American adults surveyed, only 41 percent of those who used the Internet to self-diagnose had their diagnosis confirmed by a doctor, but that hasn’t deterred people from turning to the Internet for answers. As the number of patients seeking information online continues to rise, so does the demand for reliable resources.
It’s unsurprising that many Americans turn to the Internet seeking education to exert patient autonomy, or the ability to take control of their health care. Patients are increasingly making their own decisions about treatment with a doctor’s advice, rather than relying on a doctor to make the final call on prescriptions and procedures.
This is a strong divergence from experiences Americans had in the past with health care; a physician would write prescriptions and plan treatments on their own and a patient’s only decision was whether or not to comply.
We also live in an enlightened era of medicine. More patients have access to their health records and exam results online, enabling them to conduct further research at home or send records to another doctor for a second opinion such as The Medical Consultant. Patients can also turn to smartphone apps like HealthTap or Mobile MIM to share images and symptoms with physicians who can consult their peers and provide feedback through the app or email.
Anything from an unusual diagnosis to needing a new specialist motivates patients to seek a second opinion, according to The American Cancer Society. This second opinion is increasingly available online. Some insurance companies will pay for a second opinion or third opinion. The American Cancer Society also advises that patients who are uncomfortable with their initial diagnosis to suggest a second opinion to their doctor, started by asking for a referral or for what their doctor might do in their shoes.
Harvard Health Publishing says exercising patient autonomy looks different for everyone and that most people should expect some bumps in the road. However, finding a physician that you are comfortable with should always be the bottom line. Sometimes that might mean leaving a doctor who is too abrasive in their directions, sometimes that might mean going online to seek an opinion from a new one. Most importantly, the blog says, finding a physician who supports your quest for patient autonomy will greatly increase the quality of your care.