Type in “I am sick” into Google and you will find 499,000,000 search results. It’s no secret that many people go online today whenever they have a pain, illness or a medical symptom of any sort to try and ascertain what the diagnosis might be. It’s the easiest thing to do and can be done very quickly and for some people, they get the answers they need.
For others, many patients actually consult the world’s most famous medical practitioner – “Dr Google” even after they see their own doctor. Often this is to understand more about their illness or what their doctor or health practitioner actually said to them. Occasionally, it is to find out all the side-effects of the drug they have just been prescribed or seek a second opinion, especially when they are in denial of their recent diagnosis, which is sometimes very understandable.
Approximately 25% of Australians regularly seek health information online. It is expected that this will increase as more people use the internet to supplement their doctor’s advice. The Victorian Government in Australia set up website to provide credible medical information that I find very useful. It reports that a 2010 Nielsen study showed that searching for health and medical information was among the top 10 internet activities for online Australians over 16 years of age.
Apart from the reasons mentioned above, patients go online to find out about alternative medical treatments, which practitioners of modern medicine are often not aware of. This is a tricky scenario of people who are desperate yet find it hard to distinguish what is credible. Organisations like Unity Health are doing great work in this area, by developing a database of interactions, including with alternative therapies. Their platform is called IM Gateway.
- Seek support from other internet users who have the same kind of medical disease or illness (via ‘chat rooms’, online discussion forums, blogs or communities, or social media such as Facebook)
- Find relevant patient support groups or other healthcare services
- Resolve conflicting health information.
Interestingly, while all drug companies have their ‘Consumer Medicines Information” and “Product Information” documents available online, they are not usually the most read documents when searching online. In fact, you are most likely to come across articles or blogs about the product from other patients as well as banner ads for competitor drugs.
I attended a bloggers conference last year and it was very clear that patients are very used to consulting “Dr Google” , they apparently really trust “Dr Blogger”.
What do I mean by this?
Well at a conference for bloggers last year called Healtivate, several speakers mentioned how many patients admittedly search online prior to coming in to their clinics. Some even have printouts from the pages they have conferred with and asked their practitioner questions about it.
However, while many patients do refer to factual information and statistics, there are those that particularly relate stories from other patients who have experienced the same condition, trying the same drugs, having the same emotional, mental and physical challenges in their own life.
In these situations, they are more likely to resonate with whatever has been advised by the blogger, rather than their own medical practitioner on some occasions. After all, there’s nothing the doctor can do once the patient has left the clinic.
This form of storytelling by ‘patient bloggers’ can be very useful and emotionally supportive for others in similar situations, however it can also be dangerous as whatever treatment that may work for one person, may not work for another. If taken out of context, medical advice from bloggers may translate to adverse consequences for other patients, who may have very different variations of their own medical condition.
I do believe we need more credible healthcare info online and it has to be easily found on search engines. I also do believe we should introduce storytelling into how we present that information, as it is a very powerful medium to resonate with patients, and it is far more interesting to read than list of facts and statistics.
The lesson here is that credible health experts or ‘thought leaders’ in healthcare need to get their message out there through blogs. They need to get good at disseminating their content online so they get solid traction from people needing that information.
For example, an expert on childhood Diabetes should have an online presence that is easily found by parents who have children with diabetes, and provide the right information for them. This may include the different types of diagnosis, forms of treatment, potential complications etc. It should also be a ‘real person’ experience on how to deal with the day to day issues affecting someone suffering from diabetes.
I look forward to seeing expert health and wellness professionals stepping up their game to become the next Dr Blogger and get the word out on the best health choices; this is information that is much sought after by Dr Google.
Do you have a favourite online site for your health information?