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Dr. Google? Americans go online for health info, but Pew says doctor still primary

Published: Monday, Jan. 14 2013 10:05 p.m. MST

Vartabedian says people are smarter than they were given credit for amid early fears that patients in droves would be sucked in online by bad information. They have a decent sense of what represents reasonable information and what doesn't; that's digital health literacy. And often what they've found online provides some background or understanding that enhances the conversation with a doctor as they apply it to a real situation.

"I accept the fact that patients are trying to understand their own conditions, and I have found almost universally patients respect the relationship they have with me."

"As health care providers, we sometimes dread the stereotypical hypochondriac patient who comes in with 10 unlikely diagnoses they've found online," said Dr. Roni Zeiger, CEO of Smart Patients, who is also former chief health strategist at Google. "We need to move beyond that stereotype. It does happen, as do many more patients who have thoughtful questions and ideas about what they've learned and considered. Instead of hoping to avoid this issue, I think doctors should ask their patients what they've learned online and also share with patients online resources they find most reliable."

Vartabedian noted with some surprise the finding that fewer than 20 percent of patients use the online physician review and rating sites and that even fewer patients take the time to rate their doctors. "A few years ago, we thought that would be a great source of information for patients, but it has turned out to be a site for polarized patient opinions," he said, such as "My doctor was 20 minutes late." The information is not always useful.

As for the pay walls, "There's been a lot of discussion about the impact of having scientific journals and others' articles behind a subscription wall," said Fox. "Nobody knows. One in four who look say they were asked to pay for access to something they wanted to see. Some tried to get around the pay wall and find the information elsewhere. Another segment gave up. You wonder what the lost opportunity is there."

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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