Survey Finds Majority of Americans Look Online for Health Information

Are Physicians Becoming Sidelined In Our Health Care Conversations?

08.27.14 | By

Today, Americans can do almost everything online. With a few clicks, we can manage our bank accounts, order groceries and book vacations. We can even manage components of our health and health care by scheduling doctor appointments online, ordering prescription refills and comparing test results.

But when it comes to our health, are Americans turning to the Internet for more than just convenience?

According to PhRMA’s Second Annual National Health Survey, 41 percent of Americans report they have not raised health concerns with their health care provider (this number includes 5 percent for Americans who report they do not even have a doctor), and a majority (78 percent) reports they seek sources outside of their doctor’s office for health information: 

  • 57% - Use medical or health-related websites
  • 30% - Turn to friends or family who are not medical professionals
  • 24% - Refer to a pharmacist
  • 15% - Refer to an alternative medicine practitioner, such as acupuncturist or chiropractor

Subscribe buttonPerhaps most shocking is that 1 in 4 Americans report they have done something different than what their doctor recommended. This was most common among younger adults (ages 18 – 34).

The survey underscores a paradigm shift that is transforming the fundamental relationships we have with our physicians. Doctors clearly remain an important source of professional advice, and the primary place we go for treatment, but they no longer hold an exclusive on health information and dissemination. Our “second opinions” – and sometimes our only opinions – are now coming from outside the doctor’s office, increasingly from online sources and personal research. A new “empowered patient” –an e-patient – is changing the nature of health care delivery and the level of engagement. And, it’s hard to argue that this change isn’t a good thing.

After all, The Internet is making it possible for patients to assume more responsibility for their own health care, and in doing so, is challenging the traditional doctor‐patient dynamic. While this relationship was once confined to in-office visits where physicians advised patients on a best course of action, today, patients often arrive to appointments armed with information (found online, of course) and want to discuss various diagnoses and courses of treatment. Unquestionably, an informed and engaged patient will help promote wellness and preventive care, and save the health care system and consumers billions in costs.

On the other hand, without a physician at the center of health care decision-making, the proliferation of medical information – including new medicines and treatments – is subject to undisciplined interpretation. Junk science can too easily become accepted, and complex interactions requiring explanation and discussion are bypassed. Without a physician’s guidance, tracking adherence to medications can become an afterthought and could leave millions vulnerable to hospitalizations, recurrence or overdose reactions.

There’s no escaping our evolving health-care model, especially as an e-patient becomes more health savvy and motivated. In the new model, the physician’s role has never been more important. Finding new ways of engaging their patients online, making an office or clinic visit more convenient and working with others in the health care ecosystem to distinguish fact from myth, will keep the physician-patient relationship where it needs to be – at the center of health care conversations – and not on the sidelines.


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