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

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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  • Joshua Leckrone

    I think that a wise doctor would point an interested patient in the direction of some reliable information, rather than discouraging them from researching altogether.
    –Josh L.

  • Kuinilady

    Oh! So it’s finally happened: a doctor has gotten fed up with a patient’s knowledge and would rather not treat the patient. Is the world coming to an end?

    I surely hope this article generates some attention because I confess I do read a lot of diabetes websites, including blogs. I have learned a great deal and like to think I have the good sense to weed out the bad info from the good info. However, my general practitioner does not think I should get ANY of my information from the internet and I think that is just dead wrong.

    However, I truly have the feeling my doctor has not stayed abreast of the changes in diabetes care. I feel like whenever I have a question, he goes to his medical library and does his own research. It’s impossible for today’s doctors to stay on top of every single disease and I think we patients must know enough to monitor our own care with guidance from our doctors and anyone else on our diabetes TEAM.

  • Jo

    My doctor loves the fact I research. When he prescribed medication for me, I went out to the website to read up on it and then went to other spots and talked to others who took it to get their reactions. I think some of these doctors are afraid an informed patient may find out the doctor is wrong!

  • medic11402

    Maybe it is time for the medical community to revisit their ethics classes as well as the patient bill of right. Informed consent applies in all aspects of medicine from emergencies to routine medicine. How can you inform your patients if you deny their research?

  • terry

    I have no problem with blood pressure medicine. Stains gave lots love problems,I didn’t high numbers HDL was low. But when taking it went down to 22. New Dr. said they didn’t care about HDL. I did.Next came Metformin. Glad I wasn’t working because I am sure I would have lost my job.That made me so sick, I woke up at night hurting. Wrote DR. E-mail. She said that was normal and would add another drug if it didn’t do the job. I quit it. It reminded me of being posioned.My numbers run from 130 to 144.I started walking more and trying other things.I do not trust the DR. I read they don’t care about side effects and I believe it. HMO’s seem to work from a script do this then this. I am not depressed either I want to keep my engery.I bet I could go there every week and walk with drugs.I worked with some one that took a medication that killed his Kidneys. He had to have a transplant.Drugs also do damage, you don’t want the treatment to kill you.All the money spent, no incentive to cure it.

  • gloriac

    It’s truly sad that some physicians are threatened by informed patients. It just confirms that patients need to take more responsibility to keep abreast as consumers. If someone loses their organs or suffers irreparable damage from drug side effects, or even dies, it’s an acceptable statistical risk to some doctors. Affected patients don’t get to be so glib, as it is their life and its quality that are at stake. I’d rather take my chances surfing the net and asking questions, then settling for what some who practice medicine say is all that can be done, primarily because they choose to be narrow-minded and stop learning.

  • Bill Bartmann

    This site rocks!