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Dr. Google is in: Physicians consult search engines to support medical decisions

Many physicians are turning to the same place patients do when they have a medical query: search engines.

Search engines are the Web-based resource most commonly consulted by physicians, according to a survey done by MedData Group. The survey distinguished between which Web resources were used to support physicians’ decisions and those used to help them reach a conclusion. Nearly 80% of the 164 respondents have used search engines to support their medical decisions. What do they grab from the search results? Clinical studies and research reports were cited as the most frequently used content physicians use to make medical decisions, coming in at just under 60% and 50%, respectively.

The survey also listed the top challenges faced by physicians in their professional use of digital technology. More than half said that patients often misinterpret what they read online, which can strain the doctor-patient relationship.

Many patients are researching their conditions so they can be more informed about and engaged with their care. Search engines are merely the first stop for highly-involved patients. PatientsLikeMe, for those with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and Crohnology, for people with Crohn’s disease are two examples of online communities where patients can go in-depth in sharing their experiences. Resources like these can be valuable to patients and physicians, who may not have the time to respond to every patient concern. Consider that nearly one out of every two (130 million U.S. adults)  lives with a chronic condition and a quarter of them have at least one limitation on their daily life. Those patients may be able to answer some of their own questions through an online search.

Patients’ growing interest in measuring and monitoring different aspects of their health and the lack of regulation of mHealth apps and Internet resources is reinforcing some physicians’ fear that patients will misdiagnose or mistreat themselves. A desire to clear up patients’ confusion has led to more direct interaction, including text messaging, between patients and physicians. It has also informed the creation of online platforms such as CrowdMed, which allows patients and physicians to crowdsource feedback on their medical conditions and opinions.

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