What Is “Dr. Google,” and Do You Need to Worry About It?

Over the past few years, your practice has probably seen countless patients who came in with an idea about their own health condition have based on information from the internet. It’s no secret that most patients search for health information online.

You may have noticed recently that when searching for information about certain conditions on Google, a box appears at the top of the results page (see an example below) with information on the condition from the Mayo Clinic. These information boxes have aptly been dubbed “Dr. Google” by some in the industry.

Dr. Google

Many practices are worried that “Dr. Google” could affect their bottom line, that patients will begin to self-diagnose with online information rather than seeing a doctor for help.

It’s certainly a valid concern, but is Dr. Google really as big of a threat as we think it is? Not necessarily.

What Dr. Google Can and Can’t Do

Technology is an integral part of our society today, and that includes the internet and search engines. In order for your practice to keep up with the ever-changing times, you’re going to have to accept that no matter what you do, you can’t prevent your patients from searching online to get information about their conditions.

As far as information goes, Dr. Google is not necessarily a bad thing. Google understands that there is a lot of bad information out there on healthcare-related topics. The goal of the information boxes is to provide patients with good, medically-sound information about the conditions they search for. Yes, the information boxes also give treatment information, but that won’t necessarily affect the amount of patients you see. In fact, it could actually help you to get more patients who really need your help.

Dr. Google can provide treatment advice, but the information boxes also prompt patients to seek medical advice from a doctor when appropriate. Google can give patients the right information, but ultimately it can’t provide real, quality care. That’s where your practice comes in, and that is something that Google can’t replicate or replace.

Having more informed patients can even be beneficial to the care you provide. If you approach it the right way, you can even benefit from Dr. Google.

Using Dr. Google To Your Advantage

You’re going to have patients who will Google their symptoms or condition before the appointment. They’ll come in with an idea, whether correct or incorrect, about what they have. They may have worries or fears about the information they’ve read. Don’t dismiss these concerns, even though you might be tempted to. Your patients want to be heard, and they want to be active participants in their healthcare. Their attempts to gain information, however misguided, show that they want to know more about their condition. That is ultimately a good thing because an understanding of the condition can help patients understand your recommendations for treatment.

If a patient does come in with a misguided notion of their diagnosis, take the time to address each concern. Point the patient to good information sources, like your patient education. You’ll find that many patients appreciate the fact that you take the time to talk through their worries, rather than dismissing them outright.

Informed patients are also able to provide better details about their symptoms. The information they find on the internet can give them a better idea of what symptoms they should be looking for. That can lead to a better doctor-patient discussion, and can provide you with more accurate information to make a diagnosis.

Of course, you will still occasionally have patients who self-diagnose, and they won’t be happy unless you agree with them. You may not be able to give those patients what they want, but that doesn’t mean you have not provided quality care.

Dr. Google may win over a few patients, but ultimately, it cannot provide the level of care that you can in person.