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How the Internet is reshaping the doctor-patient relationship


Patients are increasingly turning to the Internet for health information. In an article published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine, Pamela Hartzband, MD, and Jerome Groopman, MD, discuss how the Internet is redefining the roles of physician and patient and why patients should always seek guidance from their doctors in interpreting online health information. The physicians write:

Beyond providing broader, speedier access to information, the Web is profoundly changing communication between doctor and patient. Many patients feel free to e-mail not only their own doctors but also specialists around the world. Many doctors also take the initiative and inform their patients of test results by e-mail - an efficient practice that will probably be favored under health care reform. But exchanging e-mail with patients can become time-consuming and burdensome, and there is generally no reimbursement for it. Moreover, sending e-mail is quite different from speaking with a patient face to face, and doctors must consider carefully what they say and how they say it. It's impossible to judge the effect on patients of information transmitted through cyberspace: we can't observe grimaces, tears, or looks of uncertainty. And written dialogue is quite different from spoken conversation: replies may be delayed, phrases may be more stilted, tone of voice is absent. We should pay close attention to any unintentional fraying of the physician-patient bond.

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