I believe that an educated patient is a better patient, by which I mean a patient who is more empowered to take responsibility for his or her own health. These days, the most important means by which patients become more savvy about health issues is the web. There are a couple of caveats that accompany this advice: (1) the web should not be used for self-diagnosis without physician input; and (2) there's lots of charlatans on the web peddling various nostrums so consumers/patients need to be cautious and steer themselves toward the highest quality sites.
Here's an interesting note about how patients who search the web tend to have higher quality physician visits by health economist Kevin Frick (see: Patients "Google" and Get More Out of Visits)
Here is an interesting news piece about a study of patients "googling' to get information about their conditions before they go to a general practitioner and then feeling a set of more positive feelings about the experience of the visit with the general practitioner. At first glance, I might have thought that patients googling would not help patient/provider relationships. My intuition may have been that the process of obtaining information from the world wide web would have been seen as a substitute for positive patient/general practitioner interaction. Instead, it seems to be complementary to and encouraging of positive interaction.
Patients have a choice--go to the general practitioner, invest their time in conversation with the GP, and come away with an experience that will guide their future health and well-being. Alternatively, they can spend time before the visit gathering information...[and] then engage in conversation with the general practitioner.
While my intuition may have been to think that patients would use the information as a substitute for interaction with the general practitioner. What seems to happen is that the patients are taking the information and using the information to strengthen their interaction with their general practitioner. This suggests that at least some patients see the value of the improved interaction with the physician as being more than the value of the time that it takes to search for information on the internet....
Of course, this is not just a patient issue. It is also a physician issue. The physicians must believe that the information that patients bring to them is useful and does not interfere with the interaction.The information from this new study may help patients and providers to plan better for more effective and more efficient interaction in the future.
Kevin is perceptive enough to understand that not all physicians appreciate the value of interacting with an informed patient. Some don't want a dialogue but rather a one-way conversation. In addition and taking into consideration the time constraints on many patient visits, there may be little room for two-way conversations, active listening, and patient education. Patients would be wise to seek out physicians who appreciate the value of informed interactions about health issues.