‘Dr Google’ can help patient-doctor relationship, study finds

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So-called "Dr Google" can have a positive impact on a relationship between a GP and their patient, a new study suggests.

Performing online searches for health information – colloquially known as using "Dr Google" – leads to a better mutual understanding of symptoms and diagnosis between a patient and their GP, a new research paper found.

Searching online before an appointment can generally have a "positive contribution" to a GP consultation, a team of researchers from Belgium found.

More than half of patients had more confidence in their GP after searching online

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It has been suggested that as many as two thirds of patients search the internet prior to a consultation.

But previous studies have found that some doctors ignore or contradict the information patients bring to the consultation because they feel "threatened and that their professional expertise had been disregarded", the authors of the latest research wrote.

The new study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, saw experts assess the impact of using "Dr Google" to look up health conditions and ailments before patients visited their GP.

They gathered information on 718 Flemish patients aged 18 to 75.

More than half of patients had more confidence in their GP after searching online.

But two thirds said they did not feel reassured by their internet search. And three in 10 said they felt worried after the search.

Researchers found that the more frequently people consulted the internet for specific complaints, the more likely they reported reassurance.

They concluded: "The large majority of the Flemish population would still visit the doctor after online information retrieval and the patient’s confidence in their GP is rarely affected.

"On the contrary, it may lead to a better mutual understanding of symptoms and diagnosis.

"Therefore, an open attitude toward the patient and their online search behaviour is recommended.

"GPs often overestimate the possible anxiety caused by an online information search.

"In conclusion, at a time in which shared decision making and patient empowerment is the norm for conducting good medical practice, Dr Google has a generally positive contribution to the GP consultation and the doctor-patient relationship."

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