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Internet Research Can Help Medical Patients Comply

I’ve noticed for years that people in professions that claim authority through special knowledge can get extremely uptight about the idea of ordinary people without advanced degrees in their particular fields searching the Internet for information related to the areas they have studied. Science writers get irritated at non-scientists who write and read about science on the Internet. Journalists rant against the growth of blogs. Political insiders deride the netroots.

Likewise, physicians often groan about patients who search for medical information on the Internet. I’ve spoken with a good number of medical doctors who have told me that they wish their patients would stop trying to find information about their medical conditions online. It interferes with compliance, the doctors say.

Actually, that may not be true. In fact, the opposite may be true in many cases. In a new study described in an article in the journal Cancer, patients who sought information about their colorectal cancers independently from their physicians were more likely to accept recently approved targeted therapies. One interpretation of these results is that, rather than causing patients to seek out alternative medicine or to reject therapies out of fear of side effects, the independent search for medical information tends to give patients the information the need to understand and accept their physicians’ recommendations. It may be that patients tend to comply with physicians’ recommendations more when they actually know why the recommendations make sense.

I’m not a medical professional in any sense, so me offering a recommendation may irritate some medical professionals, but if I were working in medicine, I’d be interested in ways to help patients to find appropriate sources of information on their own, rather than trying to restrict the flow of information to rushed office visits.

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