e-patients are involved in their health – they’re informed, typically very educated and they’re paving the way for a revolution in patient engagement. And contrary to popular belief, the ‘e’ doesn’t stand for ‘electronic’ – it’s intentionally ambiguous, which leaves plenty to the imagination.
Naturally, there are downsides to these new, engaged, empowered and connected patients. Read on to find out what they are and how you can prepare yourself once e-patients go mainstream.
The first of the e-patient downsides is already an oft-publicized phenomenon. Cyberchondria is a nosophobic condition resulting from the marriage of hyperchondria and sites like WebMD.
While it’s generally positive for patients to become more engaged and informed about their health and whatever conditions they may (or may not) suffer from, digesting large amounts of information with a negative mindset may result in dramatic personality changes and a dismal approach to health.
Not to mention, cyberchondriacs may self-diagnose and later self-medicate, which can be disastrous. And when more than 6 million Americans research their potential medical conditions daily, the healthcare system may have a massive problem on its hands.
The paranoia associated with cyberchondria can be assuaged, however. Check with your patients, review facts and myths associated with certain conditions, and expound on what differentiates clusters of conditions with similar symptoms.
Also, reassure patients and don’t order an unnecessary test for your more Google-compulsive ones. Oh, and please discourage the use of forums like Yahoo! Answers, reminding patients that they don’t want advice from a middle school kid with some ridiculous pseudonym.
The ‘e’ in e-patient has been associated with myriad words reminiscent of the uplifting jargon found in New Age periodicals – equipped, enabled, empowered, emancipated, engaged.
While positive attitudes do wonders for patients’ health, too much confidence in their own knowledge and research can make e-patients a bit arrogant. You don’t want patients who think they know more about how to treat themselves than you do.
First, elicit information from your patients. Informed e-patients like to discuss their conditions, sharing insights and knowledge about their symptoms that benefit your understanding of their state, as well as elucidate treatment options.
Afterwards, your best bet is to remind them of aspects of their regimens they can take full of control of and regulate. For instance, for conditions with dietary requirements, like diabetes, enlighten them on the dangers of the condition, misconceptions they may have encountered during their research and how being informed can improve their daily lives.
Then, encourage e-patients to take diets into their own hands and instill a sense of responsibility, which gives them more of a purpose to keep digesting data. In other words, balance the e-patient ‘e’ words with your own lexicon – elicit, enlighten and encourage.
e-patients are well versed about their health, which usually leads to better healthcare. In some cases, they may be aware of some details regarding their conditions that are new to you. This isn’t something to be bitter about. Instead, leverage this knowledge and use it to your benefit.
First, it wouldn’t hurt to vet your patients’ medical information resources. The e-patient’s wealth of knowledge is like a diamond in the rough, especially when considering how many patients you see yearly and just how little time you get to dedicate to their personal health information. But too much of it can be derived from misguided sources.
If you steer the e-patient in the right direction – teach e-patients how to think more like a doctor, how to interpret medical information and the mechanisms behind how certain conditions improve and worsen – you can effectively teach them how to perform certain aspects of your job for you, making both your lives easier.
Have you encountered e-patients at your practice yet?Tweet