Purpose: Communication skills teaching in medical education has yet to acknowledge the impact of the Internet on physician-patient communication. The authors present a conceptual model showing the variables influencing how and to what extent physicians and patients discuss Internet-sourced health information as part of the consultation with the purpose of educating the patient.
Method: A study exploring the role physicians play in patient education mediated through health information available on the Internet provided the foundation for the conceptual model. Twenty-one physicians participated in semistructured interviews between 2011 and 2013. Participants were from Australia and Switzerland, whose citizens demonstrate different degrees of Internet usage and who differ culturally and ethnically. The authors analyzed the interviews thematically and iteratively. The themes as well as their interrelationships informed the components of the conceptual model.
Results: The intrinsic elements of the conceptual model are the physician, the patient, and Internet based health information. The extrinsic variables of setting, time, and communication activities as well as the quality, availability, and usability of the Internet-based health information influenced the degree to which physicians engaged with, and were engaged by, their patients about Internet-based health information.
Conclusions: The empirically informed model provides a means of understanding the environment, enablers, and constraints of discussing Internet-based health information, as well as the benefits for patients' understanding of their health. It also provides medical educators with a conceptual tool to engage and support physicians in their activities of communicating health information to patients.