Background: Public use of the Internet for health information is increasing but its effect on health care is unclear. We studied physicians' experience of patients looking for health information on the Internet and their perceptions of the impact of this information on the physician-patient relationship, health care, and workload.
Methods: Cross-sectional survey of a nationally-representative sample of United States physicians (1050 respondents; response rate 53%).
Results: Eighty-five percent of respondents had experienced a patient bringing Internet information to a visit. The quality of information was important: accurate, relevant information benefited, while inaccurate or irrelevant information harmed health care, health outcomes, and the physician-patient relationship. However, the physician's feeling that the patient was challenging his or her authority was the most consistent predictor of a perceived deterioration in the physician-patient relationship (OR = 14.9; 95% CI, 5.5-40.5), in the quality of health care (OR = 3.4; 95% CI, 1.1-10.9), or health outcomes (OR = 5.6; 95% CI, 1.7-18.7). Thirty-eight percent of physicians believed that the patient bringing in information made the visit less time efficient, particularly if the patient wanted something inappropriate (OR = 2.5; 95% CI, 1.5-4.4), or the physician felt challenged (OR = 3.6; 95% CI, 1.8-7.2).
Conclusions: The quality of information on the Internet is paramount: accurate relevant information is beneficial, while inaccurate information is harmful. Physicians appear to acquiesce to clinically-inappropriate requests generated by information from the Internet, either for fear of damaging the physician-patient relationship or because of the negative effect on time efficiency of not doing so. A minority of physicians feels challenged by patients bringing health information to the visit; reasons for this require further research.