What We’re Reading: The Over-informed Patient?

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This week, we’d like to direct your attention to a recent article from Time magazine that has sparked controversy throughout the blogosphere. Called "When the Patient is a Googler," the article, written by orthopedic surgeon Scott Haig, M.D., looks at the phenomenon of the patient who comes to his or her appointment armed with medical information gleaned from Internet searches.

Dr. Haig writes in particular of one of his patients, who had not only researched her condition extensively but was unable to sort out the good information from the bad—”She would ignore no theory of any culture or any quack.” Dr. Haig felt that his patient’s questions were so intrusive, and created such an atmosphere of mistrust, that he decided not to treat her.

The article has generated a good deal of response, especially on The New York Times’s health blog, Well, in the entry “A Doctor’s Disdain for Medical ‘Googlers.'” Some people think a doctor should not dismiss “Googlers” and other amateur researchers who have tried to find out as much as they can about their condition. They contend it is important to encourage patients to stay involved with and informed about their health and point out that information found online can, in some cases, be very helpful to the doctor. Others argue that only a doctor has the expertise to understand and sort out the often-bewildering strands of medical information (and misinformation) available on the Internet.

The article raises important questions about the role of the doctor and the role of the patient. Should a doctor be open to research the patient has done? If so, when and how is it appropriate for a patient to bring up information obtained through independent research? And is it possible, as the article suggests, to “Google” too much—to be an “over-informed” patient?

This blog entry was written by Assistant Editor David Golann.

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