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Updated: July 7, 2014 02:54 IST

It’s Google before doctor for some

Zubeda Hamid
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Doctors in the city say, of late, patients come in armed with a wealth of information about their possible condition, medical procedure and even drugs and their side-effects. Illustration: Prathap Ravishankar
The Hindu Doctors in the city say, of late, patients come in armed with a wealth of information about their possible condition, medical procedure and even drugs and their side-effects. Illustration: Prathap Ravishankar

Patients come armed, and anxious, with more information

If you’ve noticed a lump somewhere, experienced a strange tummy ache or felt a tingling in your fingers, chances are you’ve Googled the symptoms first and then decided to go to a doctor.

And in the process, probably scared yourself more than necessary.

Doctors in the city say, of late, patients come in armed with a wealth of information about their possible condition, medical procedure and even drugs and their side-effects. While they agree that more knowledge on the patient’s end is welcome, there is also a lot of information that increases patient anxiety.

“The problem is, after doing online research, people imagine they have all sorts of problems. When they come in worried and insisting on investigations, we have to send them for test after test, in most cases, completely unwarranted. A lot of time and money is wasted. Patients must trust their family doctor,” said S. Manjunath, a general physician.

A recent survey across 27 cities, including Chennai, reveals that 44 per cent of the 650 doctors surveyed said patients come overloaded with information.

Ninety per cent said patients imagine the worst after Googling, and 50 per cent said the internet has made their interaction with patients more difficult. Health issues come second in the list of most popular topics searched online.

It’s not just computer-savvy youngsters who do this; even retired professionals come in to doctors’ offices with printed sheets about their condition, said a doctor.

“Patients end up worried about treatment procedures, as online searches reveal all kinds of potential complications. The wrong information can decrease the patient’s confidence,” said Rajan Ravichandran, director, MIOT Institute of Nephrology.

But why shouldn’t patients look up their conditions?

Research should be encouraged, said S. Thanikachalam, director, cardiac care centre, Sri Ramachandra University. “Earlier, what the doctor said used to be considered gospel. It’s better that the patient is informed and knowledgeable. If I want to build a house or buy a car, I would research everything. And so should they,” he said.

“Knowing more about your condition is always encouraged. But patients should know which websites to go to. There is a lot of false information floating about in blogs and forums that should not be relied upon. Going to the health website of the government or a reputed hospital is better,” said Dr. Ravichandran.

In rare cases of hypochondria or health anxiety, patients are referred to a psychiatrist. “We are dealing with people who are desperately anxious. That’s why they come to us; we should try to assuage them. Physicians should try and use the patient’s knowledge to their advantage,” he said.

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