According to Pew Internet Research, nearly 35 percent of U.S. adults turn to “him” for answers to health concerns. And that number doubles when you consider those who look to his less specialized brothers Google and Bing. However, they can’t turn to any of them for empathy or integrated care. They don’t know if he shares their core values. And he will never be at their civic club or PTA meeting.
Still, there’s much to be learned from Dr. Google’s existence. Such as:
1. Some things are hard to talk about.
Many adults leverage the anonymity of the web to search for answers to those hard to ask questions about their health. Some of the questions are just too uncomfortable to discuss with even the closest of friends, family or a spouse. Do you know what those hard to ask questions are? Do you offer any sort of local, personal insight in a way that’s easy to access even without or before an appointment?
2. I can take care of myself. Maybe.
About a third of those who seek help from Dr. Google, his colleagues at WebMD or by peeking through some other health portal end up handling the problem on their own. That represents some risk for their well-being and frankly, your bottom line. You’re probably not going to turn that number around completely. But you’re in it for the sake of the patient. A connection with you might lead to an eventual appointment and could subsequently help them to identify some peripheral issue that led to their health concern. This could make a genuine difference in their health.
3. I have this friend who, no really.
Many of Dr. Google’s inquiries are from those who are trying to learn more about an issue that’s affecting their family or friend. Some 60 percent of U.S. adults from the Pew Internet Research piece say they’re looking to gain an understanding of a friend or family member’s condition in an effort to provide comfort or some other form of support.
Are you enabling a support network with answers that don’t compromise patient confidentiality but inform those who give care at home?
Look, Dr. Google exists because there is a need. And many of your peers agree with his diagnosis 4 out of 10 times.
But you know what? You can make Dr. Google and the lessons learned from this exercise work for you. Here are two things that you can do right away.
- Build a website. Yes, these are still relevant. But it must address the difficult issues and most common concerns of your patient community not just physician profiles and office hours. If you really want to make a relevant site, enhance it with a utility that enables interaction with you or the appropriate person on your staff. Maybe that nurse practitioner who sees the first tier of patients can now interact with others online.
- Create a social media presence and use it. Building is not the same as doing. Your presence need not offer diagnosis or dispense medical advice. And it shouldn’t be one that copies content from everyone else. However, it should share information that is helpful to others, demonstrate your core values, and present the culture within your practice.
Hey Doc, here’s the best news in all of the hype about Dr. Google - patients with serious concerns still consider doctors the main and best source of information. Be encouraged but not complacent. The best of both worlds would find you available online to, if nothing else, direct patients and those who care about them toward trustworthy resources. Do that and Dr. Google becomes just another part of your team. He’s a health information partner. Meanwhile you tend to the 70 percent of us who say that what we want when it really matters is – you.
Tim C. Nicholson is the President of Bigfish, LLC. His Memphis-based firm connects physicians, clinics and hospitals to patients and one another through healthcare social media solutions, branding initiatives and websites. His column, “Hey Doc”, appears here monthly. Find him on twitter @timbigfish or email firstname.lastname@example.org