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Dealing with Knowledgeable Patients


For many people, the Internet is a favorite source of information:

  • Weather forecast? Check.
  • Movie theater listings? Check.
  • Breaking news? Check.
  • What’s causing my back pain? Check?

Googling symptoms has become very common. “In fact, 86 percent of patients conduct a health-related search before scheduling a doctor’s appointment,” as noted by a Binary Fountain article.

Bad News and Good News

Bradford W. Hesse, PhD, examined this phenomenon in an article for the American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics. He found that when patients did an “end run around traditional medical sources” and turned to the Internet for answers, the results included “a hodgepodge of medical information, from cutting-edge study data to dubious advertisements for miracle cures.”

However, Hesse cited a glimmer of hope that the information superhighway may be useful – and even helpful. “[N]ew data from the Livestrong Foundation suggests that patients do better at self-management once they begin to feel comfortable with their ability to search for and find medically relevant information from a variety of sources.”

Acknowledge, discuss, guide

When a patient comes armed with knowledge from the Internet, some of the information may be good, but some of it may be downright harmful. What’s a provider to do? A Patient Education and Counseling abstract offers three concrete steps for health professionals:

  1. Acknowledge patients’ search for knowledge
  2. Discuss the information offered by patients
  3. Guide them to reliable and accurate health websites

Be prepared for Q&A

Patients don’t limit their healthcare searches to symptoms. An Eyecare Professional article noted that people go “into optical dispensaries with printouts from websites, photographs, and articles.” In addition to answering “their questions in an easy-to-understand, knowledgeable manner,” it “may also be necessary to dispel any misinformation the patient may have.”

Involve the Patient

A Modern Healthcare article examined the results of a study about patients and how they manage their care and healthcare spending. The study found that patients who felt they had the ‘“knowledge, skills, and confidence’ to make healthy choices and informed medical decisions were less costly than those” who felt they lacked the same “knowledge, skills, and confidence.” That has significant ramifications: “These empirical findings add to the growing body of literature suggesting that patients play an important role in determining their own health outcomes.”

Involving patients in their own care helps them gain the knowledge, skills, and confidence cited in the study. Referring them to specific websites can help get them more involved; the sites should be selected carefully to ensure that the information will be helpful and relevant to the patient.

Putting the Internet to Work

When healthcare staff members acknowledge that patients go online, they can begin to put the Internet to work. The key is to guide patients to appropriate sites and be prepared to answer questions that may arise. At 365 Healthcare Staffing Services, we put the Internet to work, too. We’re here for your staffing needs, so give us a call at (310) 436-3650.