What has become known as the "cyberchondriac" phenomenon of patients thinking they have a medical condition or need a certain treatment based on something they read online may be on the wane.
In the sixth annual Modern Physician/Pricewaterhouse-Coopers survey of physician executive opinions on key information systems issues, slightly less than half of respondents say that physicians in their organizations are influenced by information patients bring in from the Internet fairly infrequently. But only 9.5% say patient-supplied material never has an effect on medical judgment.
Modern Physician will publish full results and in-depth analysis of the 2003 survey in the November issue of the magazine. Highlights also will appear on ModernPhysician.com and in the MP Stat e-newsletter next Monday.
"If it's from a reliable source, I've sometimes changed my course of treatment, as long as it's not from Fred's Home Page or something like that," says Carolyn McDougald, D.O., a family practitioner in Fort Worth, Texas.
"Most of my patients are pretty well educated and they research information," McDougald says. "I always encourage my patients to be educated because it's their bodies."
A September conference on information therapy from not-for-profit consumer healthcare content developer Healthwise, Boise, Idaho, highlighted the philosophy that consumers should be able to make informed decisions about their healthcare in partnership with their physicians. However, that event focused on clinicians providing knowledge to patients, not the other way around.
In reality, only 12.85% of patients are bringing information from the Internet to physician office visits, according to the survey. That is up about 3 percentage points from last year and double the 2001 rate.
"It's very rare that someone walks in and says, 'I want to be on this. I want to be on Lipitor,'" says Mark Cohen, M.D., chief of professional technology for the Rochester, N.Y., region of outpatient healthcare provider Lifetime Health. In his opinion: "It hasn't changed anything."