Internet diagnosing can be a result of harmless curiosity about symptoms, but can lead to misdiagnosing and result in distress and anxiety. Although these patients are sometimes jokingly referred to as cyberchondriacs, they usually take the information they glean from Google searches very seriously.
Also, there are those who search on a diagnosed condition and find conflicting medical treatments from that recommended by your medical team. These patients and/or their loved ones sometimes insist that their medical team provide these alternate treatments and can become defensive if what the current doctors are doing does not match what they have read.
Both scenarios can be tricky to tackle. Here are tips on how to deal with these kinds of patients:
1. Empathize. Agree with them that yes, medicine is an ever-changing field with up-to-date research done consistently to find the right diagnosis or the best treatment for various diagnoses. Offer to take any printouts or hyperlinks they may have, but you needn’t promise to read it. Thank them for being so involved in their own (or the patient’s) health.
2. Educate. Explain that although the patient may have found different diagnoses or treatment methods, we are treating their particular case, and doctors have specific methods of diagnoses and treatment. If the doctor who has practiced for 20 years has found that her way breeds the most positive outcome, you wouldn’t want her to abruptly change that treatment because another doctor across the country treats the same disease a different way.
3. Placate. If the patient still insists on another diagnosis or treatment, tell them they’re free to ask questions and even make recommendations to their physician based on their Internet gleanings. However, make sure you have done everything you can to answer questions before the patient sidelines the MD with conflicting Internet diagnoses or treatments.
Finally, if you really trust the medical team, tell the family that they should trust in the medical team, too. You’ve probably developed a deeper relationship by this point, and they will listen to you because they know you truly have their best interests at heart.