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Diabetes among most “Googled” diseases

Patients researching conditions online is the “new normal,” so guiding them in the right direction is key.

By Robert Stoneback, associate editor

According to a recent national report by TermLife2Go, an online life insurance agency, diabetes is one of the most “Googled” diseases in the United States. Human papilloma virus is the most searched condition, while diabetes ties for second with celiac disease, according to the report published by MDLinx.

Shilpa Rose, MD, who is in private practice in Chevy Chase, Md., says it’s unusual for a patient to come to the clinic saying, “I think I have diabetes because of my research.” Instead, she says patients are more likely to schedule appointments due to blurry vision or their worries about a family history of diabetes. Dr. Rose attributes the high Google rate for diabetes to patients’ interest in being healthier and their increased awareness in “pre-diabetes.” If patients have elevated blood sugar and receive a diagnosis of pre-diabetes from an internist or similar specialist, they will research the condition to find out what they can safely eat or what other medical conditions, such as blindness, might be associated with diabetes, she explains.

A SUPPLEMENT, NOT A RIVAL

Patients turning to the internet and Google for medical information is “the new normal,” Dr. Rose says. She notes that even five years ago, doctors balked at patients looking up information on their own. Today, however, physicians just have to accept that it happens.

With the rise of patients using “Dr. Google” to self-diagnose, Dr. Rose recommends viewing the internet as a supplementary form of patient education — not a rival. When patients do their own medical research, it is important not to be dismissive and to guide and empower patients, she says. This creates opportunities for more informed discussions between the doctor and patient.

To ensure that they follow proper advice, she often provides printed handouts for patients to take home. These educational materials give them something to reference on their own time. Then, she leads them in the right direction for supplemental education by suggesting specific internet sources, such as the AAO’s website. Also, she warns patients to not always trust the first links they see in a search result, cautioning that anything labeled “paid search” may not be reliable.

BE AWARE OF WHAT’S OUT THERE

Ultimately, patients don’t want a doctor who “is not with the times,” so Dr. Rose familiarizes herself with the ophthalmic information that regularly shows up online.

“I will sometimes go home and research what information is out there on different eye conditions,” she says. “Being well-versed in what comes up in search engines is helpful.” OM

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