As we’ve already covered, e-patients can be considered many things—engaged, enabled, equipped—but, above all, they are empowered. These patients take a hands-on approach to healthcare, harnessing the infinite reach of the internet to educate themselves and connect with providers.
If you don’t have a great presence online, there’s a good chance these patients won’t find you at all. And who knows what they’ll find instead? Misinformation? Dangerous advice? Fake news and horror stories? Bottom line: The best thing you can do for today’s patients is to join the conversation, share your insights, and be an empowered doctor.
Why? Potential patients expect you to be present and available, because that is what they expect from retailers, hotels, and everything else they research and buy online. According to a recent study by UK healthcare software provider Lumeon (formerly Qinec) on the U.S. market, 56% of U.S. patients believe the services they receive from non-healthcare businesses have raised their expectations on how they should be treated as patients. And 68% believe their use of technology in their own lives has raised their expectations on how healthcare providers should use it to improve the patient experience.
The recent rise of fake news leaking into social feeds adds another far darker twist to the trend. Sure, most of the “headlines” are about polls and politics, but healthcare is hardly immune to this viral trend of spreading misinformation. When such inaccuracies can endanger people’s lives, those who can help correct it have a duty to try.
Fortunately, there are efforts underway to ensure that potential patients find the right information:
Google: When one in 20 Google searches is about healthcare, it’s not surprising that the company is taking steps to ensure the information it provides is accurate and helpful. In addition to having leading healthcare organizations vet its proprietary Knowledge Graph summaries, it includes a feedback button in its “featured snippets” (see image), providing an opportunity for other providers to weigh in when they believe something is wrong or inaccurate.
Wikipedia: While some doctors dismiss Wikipedia as a valid source of healthcare information, others are working to improve its content as part of the site’s WikiProject Medicine initiative. They do so by clicking on the “Edit” link found on every article and removing or correcting inaccurate or misleading information.
And with more than 32,000 pages of healthcare information on the site and only 320 editors currently contributing to the project, there’s always room for more expert insight. As a recent article on The Conversation put it:
Health professionals have a duty to improve the accuracy of medical entries in Wikipedia because it’s the first port of call for people all over the world seeking medical information.
RealSelf: Of course, even those who contribute healthcare information to Google and Wikipedia wouldn’t advise anyone to make a major healthcare decision without deeper research. That’s where answering questions from real people, as in RealSelf’s Ask a Doctor feature, comes into play. As Dr. Richard H. Tholen, a Minneapolis plastic surgeon, said in a previous post:
Myths are debunked; “junk science” is refuted and destroyed by fact, and BS is shot down by a barrage of better information. [Answering online questions] helps elevate our profession, and each of us in turn, by informing our patients.
And make no mistake: More informed patients tend to have more realistic expectations, which tends to lead to better outcomes, fewer problems, and higher satisfaction.
That’s a win for patients, aesthetic practices, and the profession as a whole.
Ready to learn more about sharing your expertise online? Join our webinar “Gain Influence and Status by Sharing Information,” on April 26.