Docs turn to Google, Yahoo for health info, survey finds

Linda Peitzman, chief medical officer, Wolters Kluwer Health

Google and Yahoo were cited by 46 percent of physicians in a recent survey as a frequent source of information used to diagnose, treat and care for patients.

[See also: Social media sites providing health info need greater transparency]

The Wolters Kluwer Health 2011 Point-of-Care Survey found that another 32 percent of physicians used these general browsers as an occasional resource. Sixty-three percent of physicians also reported they have changed an initial diagnosis based on new information accessed via online resources/support tools.

“Many people may find it alarming that physicians could be basing treatment decisions on resources that could be unfettered or low quality,” said Linda Peitzman, chief medical officer, Wolters Kluwer Health, who acknowledged she was surprised by these findings. However, she said the survey did not require physicians to specify what resources were being accessed from these browsers – whether they were from reputable online medical journals – or other sources.

[See also: Survey finds nurses are both mobile, social]

Peitzman said it would be interesting to do a follow-up survey that looked at this question more in-depth and says Wolters Kluwer Health is planning on making this study an ongoing one, possibly every other year.

The survey did find, however, that 42 percent of physicians frequently were accessing online free services like WebMD and to diagnose and treat patients and 34 percent of respondents cited occasionally using these resources.

The survey reported that the most common barrier to good doctor-patient communication was information overload, cited by 46 percent of physicians.

Peitzman said it is safe to assume that some of this information is coming from the Internet and noted that “just like the rest of us, physicians want to know where they can get good, quality, synthesized information.”

However, when  the survey examined respondents’ individual practices nearly nine in 10 physicians said they believed that improved access to online medical information and resources has improved the quality of care at their own practice or organization. Just 12 percent said they think it has impeded the quality of care they deliver.

All in all, the survey found the majority of physicians, 53 percent, believe that easier access to more medical knowledge by patients has had a positive impact on the doctor-patient relationship, leading to more informed discussions with patients. Only one in five believe it has been detrimental, leading to misinformation and incorrect self-diagnosis.