Are physicians ready for patients with Internet-based health information?
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Background: An increasing number of patients bring Internet-based health information to medical consultations. However, little is known about how physicians experience, manage, and view these patients. Objective: This study aimed to advance the understanding of the effects of incorporating Internet-based health information into routine medical consultations from physicians’ perspectives, using a qualitative approach. Methods: Six focus groups were conducted with 48 family physicians practising in Toronto. The data were analyzed using qualitative methods of content analysis and constant comparison, derived from grounded theory approach. Results: Three overarching themes were identified: (1) perceived reactions of patients, (2) physician burden, and (3) physician interpretation and contextualization of information. Physicians in our study generally perceived Internet-based health information as problematic when introduced by patients during medical consultations. They believed that Internet information often generated patient misinformation, leading to confusion, distress, or an inclination towards detrimental self-diagnosis and/or self-treatment. Physicians felt these influences added a new interpretive role to their clinical responsibilities. Although most of the physicians felt obliged to carry out this new responsibility, the additional role was often unwelcome. Despite identifying various reactions of patients to Internet-based health information, physicians in our study were unprepared to handle these patients. Conclusion: Effective initiatives at the level of the health care system are needed. The potential of Internet-based health information to lead to better physician-patient communication and patient outcomes could be facilitated by promoting physician acknowledgment of increasing use of the Internet among patients and by developing patient management guidelines and incentives for physicians.
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