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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

GPs says internet searches can aid patient consultations

25 October, 2012
Patients who use the internet to try and find out what is wrong with them before seeing their GP can gain more from the consultation, according to a study in this month's British Journal of General Practice.

The study by researchers from University College London looked at the reasons why patients bring information from the internet, what their experiences were; what they hoped would be achieved and how they felt it affected the doctor-patient relationship.

Twenty six patients were interviewed and asked to relate one positive and one negative aspect of taking information from the web to their GP appointment.

The majority viewed it as a sign that they were taking their symptoms and their own health seriously - but most still valued and trusted their GPs’ opinion over the internet information.

The study reported that positive experiences of patients involved the GP listening, acknowledging their concerns and providing professional opinion and support; these patients said that their relationship with their GP had been strengthened as a result.

However, some patients felt the doctor 'disregarded the information' or were 'unwilling to admit their lack of knowledge'. Others worried that the doctor had felt 'undermined or threatened'  and that they had to be careful about how the information was presented.

Professor Roger Jones, Editor of the BJGP, said: "While this study is based on a relatively small number of patients, it is likely to be indicative of what most GPs are seeing in their consultations every day. Patients of all ages use the internet and many now attend their GP appointment with information that they have researched themselves".

"Whereas GPs might have been sceptical in the past, many are increasingly using this as a way of opening up the discussion and engaging patients, which can lead to a more productive consultation for both patient and GP".

"It is very encouraging to see patients taking an interest in their health and the internet can be a useful means of finding out more about health concerns. It would be wrong to disregard the efforts patients are making to do this, but GPs will also advise caution because there are a lot of dubious sites providing information that is not based on evidence, which can be quite misleading when taken out of context."

Parvathy Bowes, who led the research at University College London said: "GPs should feel encouraged by the findings, knowing that patients value their clinical expertise and that their existing communication skills of listening to patients and engaging with their agenda can help them respond appropriately to patients."

Antony Chuter, Chair of the Patient Partnership Group at the RCGP, said: "I think this research  will help reassure patients that their views are taken seriously and encourage GPs to listen to patients' concerns. Patients are keen to become more involved in their own health and studies such as this demonstrate the benefits."

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