Dr Google: searching online improves patients’ experience in emergency

Google may hold the answer to an improved hospital emergency department experience, a new study reveals. 

Most patients who search their symptoms online before going to an emergency department have improved interactions with their treating doctor, according to new research published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

The findings come from a survey of 400 adult patients who presented to emergency departments at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and Austin Health between February and May last year. 

More than 34 per cent of those surveyed reported searching for information online about the problem they presented to the emergency department – and for more than 77 per cent, it had a positive effect. 

Survey responses revealed searching online helped patients communicate more effectively with health providers, ask more informed questions, and helped them better understand their health provider during consultation. 

Searching for online health information had a positive impact on the doctor–patient relationship.

Dr Anthony Cocco

St Vincent’s Melbourne medical internal Dr Anthony Cocco and co-authors of the research paper suggested doctors acknowledge and be prepared to discuss online searches for health information with emergency department patients.  

“Searching for online health information had a positive impact on the doctor–patient relationship, particularly for patients with greater e-health literacy, and was unlikely to cause patients to doubt the diagnosis by a practitioner or to affect adherence to treatment.” 

More than 78 per cent of respondents indicated that internet-derived health information never or rarely led them to doubt their diagnosis or treatment, while more than 91 per cent sad they had never or rarely changed a treatment plan advised by a doctor because of online health information.

However, some patients reported that searching increased their anxiety, and authors suggested this should be acknowledged by practitioners during consultation.

Health was the second most frequently searched thematic area in Google in 2016.