“Seeing is not believing” when it comes to people seeing health information on social networks. Four in five people seeking healthcare information online in social media are concerned about the accuracy of that information served up.

Therefore, most consumers a very satisfied with the healthcare information they receive from nurses, eye doctors, pharmacists, dentists, nurse practitioners, doctors, and dietitians.

But social media influencers. patient organizations, online patient forums, and pharmaceutical companies? Not so much. Only one-half of U.S. consumers believe that health-related information on the internet is as reliable as information from medical professionals.

Welcome to The Great American Search for Healthcare Information from Weber Shandwick, a report analyzing consumer survey research into U.S. adults’ use of online search for health information, along with perspectives on the U.S. healthcare system and use of connected health technologies. KRC Research polled 1,700 U.S. adults 18 and over in May-June 2018.

The two sources most-used for seeking health-related information are medical information websites (THINK: WebMD and Sharecare, for example, used by 53% of U.S. adults), and the doctor, used by 48% of people.

Yesterday, I concluded my Health Populi post on a Deloitte study into consumers’ adoption of telecomms and computer technology discussing a crucial health M.O.: that trust underpins peoples’ health engagement, and more people trust health professionals than advertising execs, pharma CEOs, or members of Congress. This insight was brought to you by the annual Gallup Poll on honesty and ethics in U.S. professions, the latest of which is discussed here in Health Populi.

Weber Shandwick’s survey on The Great American Search found that a plurality of U.S. consumers question the integrity and accuracy of healthcare information found online. This is true across generations — not just Boomers or Silent Generation folks who may interact less often in social networks, nor substantially more acute among younger people who are more active on social media.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  For every action there’s an equal, opposite reaction, it’s said – in this case, that reaction is family physicians’ response to, “patients reading online then getting in line,” quips a Merck Manuals’ survey on what family docs think about online information’s impact on patients. Here’s what they think:

  • 60% of doctors said patients are coming into the office more frequently based on what they read about symptoms online
  • 79% of doctors believe patients are more likely to question doctors’ diagnoses
  • 97% of doctors say patients are coming into the office with mis-information.

This latter point is in line with the Weber Shandwick finding that a plethora of patients believe there’s a lot of inaccurate health information online.

The solution? One physician interviewed in the survey said this: “We run into problems when patients go to online sources that aren’t evidence-based medicine. But patients aren’t going to stop looking up their symptoms on the Internet, so it’s up to physicians to direct them to trusted sources.”

This (intelligent) insight prompts the opportunity for organizations to crowdsource apps, tools, and websites based on the channels and sources they’ve vetted for their own patients, and sharing these with colleagues within health systems. Another tack is to create an “app-script” store, akin to iTunes, to which clinicians can refer patients for uploading trusted and evidence-based apps to track, say, nutrition, mood, medication adherence, and other applications. Here’s a link to the UK National Health Service NHS Apps Library which serves that purpose. Finally, physicians can, literally, prescribe a portal to patient as a sort of information therapy script. This concept goes back to the mid-1990s (when I was still a student). Then, the info-therapy might have taken the form of a Xerox’ed article from a medical journal. Today, that e-script could be communicated by doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other health care professional via a text message sent with a Medscape or JAMA article, or a recipe emailed (via HIPAA-compliant secure portal, of course) from a dietitian’s website.