‘We all have friends like that’

How Australian patients avoid Dr Google shame

Authors

  • Lucinda Roper Royal Darwin Hospital
  • Nancy Sturman University of Queensland

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/cam.39254

Keywords:

Dr Google, internet health information, patient-centred care, patient–doctor communication, patient–doctor relationship

Abstract

Medical professionals are in an ideal position to mediate between the benefits and harms of internet-sourced medical information, but there is reluctance by patients to discuss with their doctors information found online. This is the first study undertaken in a rural Australian context, where service limitations mean patients’ use of the internet may be especially important. Patients attending general practice clinics (n = 33) were interviewed to discover how they used the internet for health information and how they discussed this with their doctors. Analysis used a constant comparison method, informed by grounded theory and a dramaturgical framework. Most participants used a range of tactics when discussing internet-sourced medical information, including concealment, disguise or upfront apologetic disclosures to avoid undermining the expertise of the doctor. These findings do not confirm predictions made in the past that patients’ acquisition of internet health information would alter the power dynamic of the medical consultation. Potentially, proactive, doctor-initiated inquiry about internet medical information may help to normalise patients’ internet use, allowing open discussion, so doctors can maximise benefits and reduce harms of internet health information. Further study is required to see if this will be an effective strategy and impact health outcomes.

Author Biographies

Lucinda Roper, Royal Darwin Hospital

Lucinda Roper is a junior doctor working in Australia. She has a key interest in patient–doctor communication and how technology might alter the patient–doctor relationship.

Nancy Sturman, University of Queensland

Nancy Sturman is a general practitioner and Associate Professor with an interest in homelessness and addiction medicine. Her research interests include ethical issues and professionalism in general practice, vulnerable populations, ethical reasoning and professionalism in medical education, and trainee-initiated oversight, support and advice in general practice training. She is currently undertaking a PhD in medical education, focused on GP registrar-initiated ad hoc oversight, support and advice in general practice specialty training.

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Published

2021-01-15

How to Cite

Roper, L., & Sturman, N. (2021). ‘We all have friends like that’: How Australian patients avoid Dr Google shame. Communication and Medicine, 16(3), 267–279. https://doi.org/10.1558/cam.39254

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Articles