Each new technological convenience, such as smart phones, portable tablet computers and free wireless internet at every corner, makes the Internet more and more accessible to “e-patients,” or health care patients searching for online diagnoses, treatment options and other health care information.
These e-patients turn to online health resources to find information in preparation for, or even in place of, doctor visits. While these popular sites can instruct worried parents on how to treat a simple cold or tummy ache, they can also create unnecessary confusion and anxiety about unlikely diagnoses.
In fact, of the 61 percent of American adults looking online for health information, six in 10 of those e-patients say their most recent Internet search actually affected their decision on how to treat an illness or condition.
To help solve the potential problems posed by this wealth of online information, health organizations, hospitals and physicians should consider this old adage: “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
Health care organizations and professionals are beginning to realize their patients’ desire for quick accessibility to medical advice and are creating out-of-the-box solutions, like digital visits, where patients can submit online questionnaires describing symptoms and receive an online response from their physician, including a diagnosis and prescription or a request for them to make an appointment for further examination.
More commonly, patients are connecting with physicians through password-protected portals to refill prescriptions, schedule appointments, obtain test results and e-mail their doctor. Some physicians even conduct virtual visits with the use of computer cameras or use e-mail to track the status of long-term conditions, such as diabetes.
Another way for health care professionals to connect with patients is through the most popular social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter, to provide helpful tips or dispel common medical myths.
Because 90 percent of patients with Internet access want to interact with their physicians online, and one third of those patients would be willing to pay out-of-pocket for this convenience, the marketplace is most likely headed in the direction of increased online health care capabilities.
As a result of this trend, medical providers should be cognizant of potential risks of online diagnoses, patient confidentiality issues and the new liabilities this technology could pose.
Physicians now have an opportunity to establish themselves as tech-savvy, responsive health providers willing to offer a more convenient doctor-patient relationship for Internet-savvy patients and, in turn, increase their e-patient satisfaction.