How to improve health information online for our patients
Recommending trustworthy sites can help address problems with quality, quantity of information
Active patient engagement and shared decision-making are the new normal in the patient-physician relationship. Reaching this goal can be challenging. In literature reviews and studies conducted on shared decision-making, a key requirement is an informed patient (Institute of Medicine. Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2004; Clin Nephrol 2014; 81:30-7).
Often, patients seek health care professionals to address problems they have difficulty describing. In particular, urologic issues tend to elicit either vivid descriptions or completely embarrassed silence from patients. With this type of starting point, sometimes the challenge of shared decision-making can be overwhelming. Through the process of diagnosis and treatment, we are often left trying to bridge the knowledge gaps and overcome the embarrassment barriers.
In today’s world of rapid information processing, a challenging concern is patients who self-diagnose based on misinformation they read on the Internet. Weekly, we encounter confused and scared patients because of something they’ve read online that’s wrong or doesn’t apply to them.
As Pew Research found in a 2013 survey, 72% of adult Internet users say they have searched online for information about a range of health issues like diseases and treatments. In too many cases, low health literacy interferes (J Med Internet Res 2015; 17:e112). As the National Academies’ Health and Medicine Division document “Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion” notes, 90 million American adults (almost half of the adult population) have low health literacy, defined as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions (J Am Heart Assoc 2015; 4:e000682).”