Otolaryngologists report numerous instances of patients who are confused or misinformed regarding their specific health issues. Frequently, a diagnosis of head/neck cancer brings up many questions and the potential for confusion. “From my experience, any news about treatment related to cancer generates the most interest, and sometimes very preliminary data, which, while promising, are misrepresented or misunderstood by the public to be a new ‘cure,’” said Dr. Wang.
Explore This IssueOctober 2020
A continual stream of cancer-related news sometimes adds fuel to the fire. “With cancer, patients will apply the worst-case scenarios to their specific situation, which usually aren’t applicable,” said Dr. Grisel. Here, the internet can be a friend or foe, with reliable information available from sources such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the AAO-HNS. A simple Google search of symptoms, however, can easily send a patient into a tailspin. “When we hear a cancer diagnosis, there’s this sort of assumed death sentence because we’ve been cultured to think that this is how cancer manifests in our lives,” said Dr. Sykes, noting that anxious patients may have difficulty navigating the wide spectrum of prognoses among the many types and stages of cancer.
Ankyloglossia, or tongue tie, is another frequently misunderstood otolaryngological condition, said Dr. Grisel. “There are ‘moms’ Facebook groups’ dedicated to convincing parents that ankyloglossia is a serious health problem. Parents are taught to believe that if the physician doesn’t recommend intervention in every situation, it means they shouldn’t trust that doctor.” The danger here, Dr. Grisel said, is that the parents may then find “an unscrupulous physician somewhere to recommend a procedure” when it isn’t warranted.
Otolaryngologists also cite hypothyroidism, viral upper respiratory symptoms, and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) as areas where patients are often misinformed. “Patients tend to misdiagnose themselves based on internet searches,” said Dr. Voigt. “They might misinterpret their upper respiratory symptoms as a ‘sinus infection’ or interpret information on snoring and OSA to conclude that they may die in their sleep.”
Although as a provider it can be frustrating to have patients challenge your information or guidance, Dr. Grisel urged forbearance. “It’s easy to feel discredited or threatened when a patient says, ‘But I read x online’ after hearing your recommendation,” he acknowledged. “I try to resist that feeling and incorporate what they’ve learned into a more comprehensive understanding of the situation. I never discourage people from searching out information, as I feel that only serves to undermine the trust they have in you.”