The Internet — a doctor’s new ally

Chandana Natesh is a medical doctor, editor and health and fitness enthusiast. Here she writes about the impact of the internet on medicine and diagnosis.

Even in 2009, which is rather prehistoric in digital parlance, a study conducted by Google showed that an overwhelming 86% of physicians in the U.S used the internet to gather medical, health or drug related information.

Another interesting change that has come over the medical field is that patients have evolved with time. While medicine itself has progressed to become more technology-reliant, patients come to doctors with some information they have learned, thanks to the internet.

The trend of doctors and other medical professionals accessing the world wide web for such information has been steadily rising. However, frequent backlashes against this practice arise — information thus obtained may not be reliable, can mislead, and can be controversial. But that’s being a tad simplistic is what we think, for there are a few really good reasons that warrant the use of the internet by those in the medical profession.

Authentic material from doctors and medical educators

Blogs and forums which have content produced by a practising doctor are found online, the numbers of which are only soaring. This makes the internet a genuine knowledge sharing platform rather than a source of misinformation.

For instance, a survey conducted by Pricewaterhouse Cooper [2] asked more than a thousand patients and over a hundred healthcare executives about their view on how many healthcare companies make use of web and the social media. The result reveals that the most trusted resources online are the ones posted by doctors (60 percent), nurses (56 percent) and hospitals (55 percent).

This also points to the fact that health professionals would do good to build a strong social media presence. This will help them establish themselves as reputable sources. That apart, they can also guide the patients towards legitimate sites that can be used as secondary sources. Notably, over one-half of physicians said that using social media enabled better patient care in terms of effectiveness and quality. The key factors influencing a physician’s use of social media to share medical knowledge with other doctors were perceived ease of use and usefulness [5].

A few examples of physician authored blogs on the internet and Twitter include KevinMD, Medinnovation, DB’s Medical Rants, Mothers in Medicine and 33 Charts, to list a few.

Continual updates

The flexibility of the internet in terms of providing updates is unparalleled, which is another excellent reason why it makes sense for medical practitioners to use it in their practice. Any field of medicine demands an evolving pool of knowledge and as long as the updates come from a genuine source, online material can be invaluable.

Useful in the treatment of common and rare conditions

More and more doctors consult internet-based resources related to a patient’s condition after a patient consults with them. As per the Kantar Media Sources & Interactions Study (September 2014) [4], such online look-up happens 4.4 times per week. Three out of four physicians use the internet after a patient consults at least once every week.

Many articles and critics have thrown light on the possibility of the internet sometimes becoming more valuable than medical literature for treating rare conditions. An article in the Wall Street Journal speaks about John Lantos who is both a pediatrician and director of the Children’s Mercy Bioethics Center in Kansas City, USA. He was treating a baby with mosaic trisomy 22, a rare genetic condition.

When the doctor searched for relevant data in medical literature, he could only find a very small number of reported cases. However, he was directed to a Facebook group by the baby’s parents. The group comprised of 107 families and served as a platform for discussing the affected children’s experiences. As Dr.Lantos himself says, the group comprised of more families than “what was in the entire peer-reviewed medical literature.”

Videos can be excellent learning tools

Videos that depict surgery are something that cannot always be aired live on television as audience discretion might be an issue. The internet offers an excellent alternative where not only can you watch these videos but also watch them at your own convenience. And with numerous surgery videos being uploaded everyday, a valuable resource pool is being built which is unavailable elsewhere.

A survey [6] along these lines was conducted by Anita Sethna of Emory University’s school of medicine in Atlanta. She, along with her co-authors surveyed the members of American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS). Of the 202 responses they received, 64.1% said they has made use of online media at least once to learn some new technique, particularly for rhinoplasty and injectable procedures. Of them, 83.1% had put those techniques to practical use.

The world-famous dermatologist, Dr. PimplePopper, a.k.a, Sandra Lee uploads her surgeries on her own channel for the benefit of fellow doctors as well as the inquisitive general public. And these seem to be growing increasingly popular , with hundreds of thousands of views everyday.

We need doctors online

Despite the backlash against people searching online for medical information the reality is that the trend is unlikely to reverse. According to NBC, 80% of all internet users have searched for health-related information online. If doctors are not interested in providing this information online, then it is likely that people will be misinformed. It is in everyone’s best interests that searchers can easily find reliable information. For doctors, this is not just about helping society, this type of inbound marketing content can also drive leads and sales.

With the slow yet steady advent of peer reviewed online journals and other academic services catering to medicos, the benefit in consulting the internet for information will only ascend. Already being a repository of verified and trustworthy information, you needn’t shy away from the net for knowledge-enhancement, provided you know where to look.

References

  1. Technology will replace 80% of what doctors do. Fortune magazine, Dec 2012. Available from: http://fortune.com/2012/12/04/technology-will-replace-80-of-what-doctors-do/
  2. The Doctor Will See You Now: How the internet and social media are changing healthcare, Apr 2013. Available from: http://www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/the-internet-and-healthcare/
  3. Why doctors must market themselves in 2016, Forbes, Jan 2016. Available from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ajagrawal/2016/01/09/why-doctors-must-market-themselves-in-2016/#4f5ca04828d4
  4. Sources & Interactions Study, Sept 2014: Medical/ Surgical Edition, Oct 2014. Available from: http://www.kantarmedia.com/us/thinking-and-resources/blog/sourcesinteractions-study-september-2014-medical-surgical-edition
  5. Sarasohn Kahn, J. Physicians’ growing use of the Internet: where trust and value drive information search, Available from: http://www.healthpopuli.com/2012/12/20/physicians-growing-use-of-the-internet-where-trust-and-value-drive-information-search/
  6. Sethna, A. Using Streaming Online Media Such as YouTube to Learn New Surgical Techniques. JAMA, Mar 2015. Available from: http://media.jamanetwork.com/news-item/using-streaming-online-media-such-as-youtube-to-learn-new-surgical-techniques/