Physicians Worry About Misinformed Patients in Internet Age

November 04, 2011

November 4, 2011 — The Internet puts solid health information at a patient's fingertips, but 2 new studies suggest that too many of those fingertips stray into questionable territory.

In a survey from Wolters Kluwer Health, 78% of physicians said that lack of time is one of the most common challenges for physician-patient communication. The next biggest problem in this regard — cited by 53% of physicians — is misinformed patients.

The phone survey, conducted in August, included more than 300 US physicians, roughly split between primary care physicians and specialists.

The survey sheds more light on the increasingly larger role — for good and ill — that the Internet plays in healthcare. The Pew Research Center reports that 78% of adults use the Internet, and of these, 83% look up health information online.

However, the value of that information is debatable. While just over half (53%) of physicians in the Wolters Kluwer Health survey said that easier access by patients to medical knowledge has improved the exam-room experience, 1 in 5 said that this easier access "has been detrimental, leading to misinformation and incorrect self-diagnosis."

YouTube Videos on IBD Found Wanting

Similar misgivings emerged in a study presented by Cleveland Clinic Foundation researchers at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) that ended this week. The researchers analyzed the 100 most-viewed YouTube videos on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and rated their overall educational quality as poor.

"Clinicians and their patients need to be aware of misleading information posted by patients or particularly by pharmaceutical companies who often post videos to make it seem like they are coming from a patient when in actuality it is a company advertisement," said researcher Saurabh Mukewar, MD, in an ACG press release. "These sources are not transparent."

"The Internet and social media are not going away — YouTube is a powerful platform to deliver and receive healthcare information," said Dr. Mukewar, an internal medicine resident at the Cleveland Clinic. "But healthcare providers and professional societies need to provide more educational and efficient materials using this powerful tool to counteract misleading information."

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