Consider where you’re reading this right now. You might be reading this Healthy MD CME article on a laptop, a smartphone, an iPad or some other electronic device, using your personal technology to access the ever-present digital landscape of the internet.
The internet has become a ubiquitous part of everyday life, and even now we are benefiting from its amenities. Imagine spending a weekend off from the internet. As a casual user, can you do it? Imagine yourself spending a busy weekday without using the internet. As a practicing professional, can you? How much of the internet’s services is enmeshed in your work?
Physicians in the Online World
The diversity of content and quick access to information are two important benefits of the internet that physicians can take advantage of. Of the four user types identified by this article in their case study of 287 German physicians, three out of four user types —The Internet Advocate, the Efficiency-Oriented physician, and the Driven self-expressionist —had positive feelings about the internet, albeit for varying reasons, from convenience to self-expression. According to Facebook’s Audience Insights, around 11% of its social media population around the world is composed of users in the Healthcare and Medical Services sector. Considering Facebook’s current user base circa 2019 (2.45 billion), this would imply that 269.5 million medical workers use Facebook not counting the other widespread social media platforms that physicians could frequent. Considering these numbers, it is safe to say that physicians have a significant presence in the online world.
Physicians and Internet Information
In the above article, it was noted that all four user types generally disapproved of information brought by internet-informed patients. While the internet does contain a wealth of information, this endless channel of data might spark self-diagnosis and/or cyberchondria in users. This danger of medical misinformation might explain the relatively similar sentiment of the physicians in the aforementioned article, even those who advocate the internet for other matters. On matters of social media, patient privacy is also a concern. In this 2009 article, the scope and ramifications of medical students posting potentially-identifying information on patients was explored. While it has been an entire decade since this particular study was conducted, the importance of user privacy remains a relevant issue today.
The Role of the Internet in Patient-physician Communication
So, with all this said, what exactly is the relationship between the internet and physicians? Is it a convenience, or a hindrance? Is it a way to relax or a source of stress? What is certain is that while opinion on it is mixed, the constant access to communication is beneficial for patient-physician interactions and can even be used as a medium for care. Telemedicine or telehealth can utilize online conveniences to facilitate communication and diagnosis between physicians and patients who cannot physically travel to hospitals.
Keeping oneself updated is important for medical practitioners. Joining CME conferences or CME cruises for physicians are ways for physicians to continue improving their medical knowledge. The internet may not be perfect, but with vigilance and discretion, both patients and professionals can fully utilize it for their benefit.