American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

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Book offers tips on how to cope with health care consumerism

From the June 2000 ACP-ASIM Observer, copyright 2000 by the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.

Scores of patients bring information that they have downloaded from the Internet to David B. Nash, FACP. They then ask him why his treatment differs from what they found in their Web research.

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Some physicians view patients with lists and folders as meddlesome, but not Dr. Nash, associate dean of health policy at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. While he admitted that talking to well-informed patients can be challenging, he said that he views medical consumerism as a largely good thing.

"I can have more intelligent conversations with better-informed patients who probably will be more compliant with their therapy," Dr. Nash said. He believes that access to more information with fewer barriers will lead to improved patient outcomes.

That positive view of medical consumerism is part of the focus of a new book that Dr. Nash helped edit. "Connecting with the New Healthcare Consumer: Defining Your Strategy" serves as a guide for health care decision-makers to work with a new generation of patients who are informed about health care and like to ask questions.

In addition to Internet-based information, the book deals with pharmacy-related issues including the shift from prescription to over-the-counter medications, the growth of alternative medicine, the role of employers as patient advocates and the evolving responsibilities of nursing professionals.

While Dr. Nash acknowledged that patient empowerment can create stress in the doctor-patient relationship, he said he is confident that it will prove to be beneficial in the long run. "This will level the playing field between patients and providers," he explained. "Our fundamental belief is that an educated consumer is the best patient."

For now, much of that education is coming from a single source: the World Wide Web. There are an estimated 25,000 American health care Web sites. Dr. Nash noted that seniors use the Internet primarily to access these sites.

He said that information tools like the Internet are helping to shape physicians' future role as "master educators." While many physicians currently see patient education as their main function, he predicted that physicians' educator role will grow exponentially as even more patients access information, particularly over the Internet.

What should physicians be doing to cope with the flood of Internet information their patients bring? Dr. Nash offered several tips to help physicians connect with patients:

  • Know what your patients are reading. To fully understand the depth of what resources are available on the Web, surf the Internet yourself. "This will allow you to speak with some authority to patients," Dr. Nash said.

  • Become proactive. Use the Web to educate your patients. Start by creating educational materials for your patients.

  • Focus on quality. Use the Web as a quality improvement tool by collecting clinical data, patient satisfaction results and functional status information on patients.

"In the near future, providers will be able to demonstrate how they have improved in their care of their patients," Dr. Nash said.

For information on "Connecting with the New Healthcare Consumer: Defining Your Strategy," call McGraw-Hill Health Care at 800-262-4729.

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