A recent survey found that about one quarter of patients who showed up for an imaging exam had received no patient education information from the doctor who sent them. Among those who did receive some information, many had simply been given a brochure.
I can tell you from personal experience that there are fewer words in the average brochure than in the average blog post — and fewer words means less information.
In the same survey, half the patients went online to get more information before they went for their tests.
Are patients getting accurate information online?
A number of reviews of patient education material on the web have demonstrated that the official information provided for patients is often very hard to read, while patients who choose unofficial sources have a 50/50 chance of getting accurate information when they search for health guidance online.
A study of popular symptom checker tools found that patients who use these tools have only about a 34% chance of finding the right diagnosis.
Yet confirmation bias makes it hard for people to find that grain of salt to take with their self-diagnosis at WebMD. One healthcare blogger pointed out that a search for “breast pain” at Google directs searchers toward resources about breast cancer. Breast cancer is not the most common cause of breast pain. But once a worried woman decides she has breast cancer, she will tend to see and pay attention to information about breast cancer.
Which websites do patients trust?
One study found that patients are more likely to trust information that is easy to read and well organized. That sounds like good news — until you consider that studies of the online patient education materials provided by health care professionals show that those materials are hard to read.
We haven’t seen studies of the level of organization of these materials, but patient education materials at a graduate school reading level won’t gain that needed trust.
What else makes patients trust a website? Familiarity. Patients are more likely to trust their own doctor’s website, or a celebrity doctor’s website, than a website published by a person they have never heard of.
This is one of the big reasons it’s smart to have a practice blog. Your patients may see alarming and unreliable information elsewhere, but you can direct them to your own website. They trust the information they find there.
If you’re one of the many doctors who says, “Google it” when you get a patient question on a busy day, change your ways. Say, “Search that at our practice website.”
You can only send people to your practice blog for patient education if there are answers there for patient questions.
If you don’t have a blog at your practice website, you’re out of luck.
Bryan S. Vartabedian wrote that doctors have a responsibility to participate on online patient education. “The American Academy of Pediatrics has 60,000 members. If every AAP member wrote a myth-dispelling blog post just once a year, Google would be ruled by reason,” he said. “The medical community has the capacity and power to put good information where our patients seek it—we just need to make it a priority.”
That’s not really how Google works, but the overall point is a good one. And you don’t have to write a blog post even once a year. Hire a good blogger, keep an eye on your blog, and you can help to stem the tide of health misinformation online.
Your practice blog
For your own patients, in fact, you can provide accurate information quickly. Write down the top ten questions you hear in a typical day, shoot them over to your blogger, and in less than one month you’ll have answers to all those questions that you can confidently direct your patients toward.
If you don’t have a blogger, consider working with Haden Interactive. We are a team of professional writers with a focus on thought leadership in the health and wellness space. We’ll be happy to make your practice blog work for the greater good — and to meet your personal goals. Contact us to discuss your needs.