I recently discussed endoscopic biopsy results with a patient’s mother. Her child had inflammation in the upper intestinal tract with cells called eosinophils. As I began to explain the basics of tummy irritation and the significance of the eosinophils in her daughter’s duodenum she cut me off, “Actually doctor, you don’t need to go into too much detail, just spell ‘eosinophil’ for me if you would.”
As it turns out mom was more interested in getting to Google than listening to how I think her daughter’s biopsy results related to her problem.
I wasn’t put off or irritated.There was once a time when I would have been.I did feel compelled, however, to help her understand what she would find online when searching for eosinophils and how that information may or may not be applicable in this case.
Having faced this scenario hundreds of times I know what parents are going to find when they search for eosinophils, how they will confuse information on adult and pediatric disease, what they’ll be concerned about and what test they’ll ask me to run on the first follow-up visit in the office. So I address it all up front. Call it preemptive online health literacy. Time consuming you say? Not as time consuming as letting patients wander aimlessly.
The internet isn’t going anywhere. If anything, the web’s capacity to support patients will only improve. As medical professionals we have to be competitive with the infosphere. And the only way to remain competitive is to offer something that isn’t readily available. Our greatest strength comes in understanding individual patients, their problems, their fears and their agenda. Google fails on this task. With the right relationship and a thorough understanding of the human reaction to illness, we can coach, direct, and leverage the power of the online information. This is how we stay relevant.