A patient who is informed and knowledgeable about his medical condition is more likely to comply with a physician’s recommendations and end up with a favorable outcome once treated. Would you agree?
Perhaps, at one time, this statement could be very acceptable on the surface, but one has to consider the patient’s primary source of medical information. Prior to the information age and the launch of the World Wide Web 30 years ago, the availability of medical and health information to the lay public was limited, and it was not so easily obtained. At one time only home remedies, anecdotes from family and friends, cultural traditions, or the occasional article or TV story in the lay media required us to give a little extra time to patients to clarify information or misinformation. Now, technology has enabled patients to access huge amounts of information in a short period of time, but without the tools or knowledge to sift out the good from the bad.
Fast forward to now, an age where medical information and its availability has exploded exponentially for our patients. Consider the scenario as our patient sits quietly while we complete entries and orders in our electronic medical records and his smart phone discreetely emerges from a pocket or backpack. Our patient might be searching for keywords that were part of the preceding conversation or perusing a blog on his medical condition. In this day and age, physicians who try to provide accurate information to patients are competing not only with the internet but with health-related telvision shows, blogs, chat rooms, the 24-hour news cycle, and a host of social media platforms where patients get medical information beyond what they learn from their healthcare providers.
Seniors are currently a growing segment of internet and technology users. Approximately 22% of Americans aged 65 and older use the internet and, of those individuals, 66% use the internet to find health information. Most of these individuals are Caucasian females who are highly educated and fit into the higher economic tax bracket. Another demographic, the millennials (individuals aged 18 to 34, who exhibit great cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity), are focused on healthy living but are more inclined to seek medical advice and information online (including from health blogs). Millennials are also more likely visit an urgent care physician rather than their assigned primary care physician and have been referred to as the “C” generation, since they are so connected to their devices and phones for information. Armed with their favorite device they also love to research health content from the web to guide their decisions. Data also show that millennials were more inclined to use telemedicine for visits when possible and are more inclined to pursue holistic and alternative treatments.
So, what do we do? First, we can be assured that a well-informed patient is definitely a plus whether or not we physicians are the sole source of that information.
After each and every encounter, we would like our patients to walk away well informed. I look at some of the many ways I have tried to supplement my patient education efforts: multimedia videos in the waiting room and exam rooms, links on my website to videos that I have reviewed, printed materials in English and Spanish with pictorials, staff who are trained to reinforce information, and the presence of a family member during visits.
Technology has enabled patients to access huge amounts of information in a short period of time, but without the
tools or knowledge to sift out the good from the bad.
An article entitled “Patients Use of the Internet for Medical Information” (J Gen Intern Med. 2002;17: 180–185) concluded that physicians “should be prepared to offer suggestions for Web-based health resources and to assist patients in evaluating the quality of medical information available on the internet.” Fortunately, the Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAOHNS) has recently introduced a patient-focused interactive website called ENThealth.org that makes much of the information offered in the office accessible online at the patient’s leisure. The site contains peer-reviewed, easy-to-understand articles and videos, and a road map to help patients to navigate many otolaryngology conditions and procedures. The website also helps patients gain better understanding of the scope of our specialty and the areas of the body that we manage. There is an area called “Conditions A–Z” that is a quick reference dictionary of otolaryngology-related conditions and treatments, and a symptom checker will soon be available. The visual modules give patients who visit the site an opportunity to really get a view of how conditions are connected in a holistic way. Patients are also able to share content from the site on social media.
An episode of the TV show “This is Us” had a scene with an exhausted surgeon standing in the waiting room with an anxious family. One family member boldly approached the surgeon and indicated that he knew from his research that one of many complications could occur with his sister, who was in the OR in preterm labor. The physician, exasperated and defensive, declared he would not address any more family members with information scoured from the internet.
We are not afforded the same options that are offered on a television show. Any discussion about the future of our specialty must include making sure our patients are informed not just adequately, but accurately. If we are prepared to move with the times and work in partnership with our patients, we can assist them in their search for accurate patient educational resources outside of our office.
Dr. Taylor is medical director of Le Visage ENT & Facial Plastic Surgery in Bethesda, Md. He is also president-elect of the AAOHNS.