The widespread usage of the Internet has made health care much more intelligible to the public, who no longer need a medical degree to be able to make sense of a prescription or a diagnosis. The public’s open access to medical knowledge and information has consequently led to a change in the relationship between patients and doctors.
The online health care revolution
Prior to the era of the web 2.0, the doctor was the only one possessing medical knowledge. He was at the patients’ service during the medical visit, but after leaving the doctor’s office, people were left alone with any questions they might have forgotten to ask during the visit, or which they didn’t have the courage to ask.
A lot has changed in the doctor-patient relationship since then, and today major health websites like Netdoctor (UK), WebMD, NIH, Health Search Online (US), Doctissimo (France), and Gesundheit (Germany) have emerged and have compelled the general public to take more assertive roles in their own care.
The evolution of the doctor-patient relationship
As a result of this evolution, the patient will often have a prior knowledge about his illness when he arrives for his appointment with the doctor. This redefines the way in which patients and doctors interact, as some patients will have diagnosed themselves even before seeing the physician. The social media has even given rise to websites where you can rate your doctor, such as Vitals, which consequently has an influence on the trust relationship between the two parties.
The reverse side of the picture
However, the reliability and the quality of the content available online are sometimes questionable as it might not be scientifically sound or applicable in the patient’s specific case. Some patients consider that they have sufficient knowledge to advice others or even to question their doctor. This can increase the risk of wrong treatments from self-medication. Patients should keep in mind that even though it’s easier to gain insight into a disease and to find support from others online, it will never replace a doctor’s visit.
Who do you turn to if you have a health related problem? Is consulting health websites your first reaction when you suffer from an illness?