Caring For Kids And Their ParentsAbout Caring for Kids… and Their Parents! | Teen Confidentiality | Internet Parents | Child Abuse | Connecting Through Kids’ Culture
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Patients today, and in the case of children their parents or caregivers, have access to a vast amount of information available on-line (as well as through other sources). Patients often are anxious to learn as much as they can about their conditions or about health maintenance in general, and conscientious parents/caregivers often feel even more responsibility to get information for their children.
Knowledgeable patients are in a better position to make informed decisions, participate actively in their own care, and comply with treatment plans, so patient efforts to learn more should always be encouraged. However, physicians should be aware of some hidden dangers when dealing with the highly informed patient or parent.
The first danger is that the patient or parent, instead of being informed, may actually be misinformed. Although there is a great deal of information available on-line, not all of it is accurate. Information could have been posted or disseminated by people with less than ideal agendas. Some may have had a bad experience and are angry at or critical of the health care system. Others may be trying to sell a product, often subtly. Conversely, information may have been posted or disseminated by well motivated people who are not aware of the need for evidence-based medical information in addressing health and medical issues. When presented with a patient who may be misinformed, you should point out the errors in the information but at the same time acknowledge the patient’s efforts to learn more and encourage continued learning by directing the patient to more reliable sources of information, such as credible websites or other patient education materials.
Another problem you may experience when dealing with the highly informed patient or parent is that you may feel challenged, as though your status as the patient’s source of medical knowledge is being threatened. However, the wise and mature physician will recognize that such patients are simply demonstrating a willingness to take responsibility for and play an active role in their own care. Communication is an essential part of forming a successful doctor-patient (or doctor-parent) relationship, and this communication goes both ways. You should not deny yourself the benefit of input from the person most interested in the patient’s care.
Finally, there can be a dilemma when the patient or parent presents information about which you are genuinely unsure. As in all cases, the best approach is honesty. A patient or parent with a concern may spend a great deal of time exploring many sources for information on a topic, often much more than a physician with a busy schedule and a wide range of patients with a variety of diagnoses and issues. Most patients can understand this and usually will be satisfied if you reassure them that the information presented will be considered and researched for future discussion. However, having said this, it would be essential to follow through and do so.