The finding, published in the British Journal of General Practice, came from a team of experts from University College London.
According to a previous study, patients search online to receive more education on their illnesses, even though they trust their doctor's instructions.
The scientists set out to examine why individuals bring information they find on the Internet to their GP, or primary care doctor, and what their experiences were - if it was what was expected and how they felt it impacted the doctor-patient relationship.
An interview was given to twenty six patients, where they were asked to report one negative consequence and one positive outcome from bringing data from google to their doctor appointment.
Most of the subjects took it as an indication that they were doing the right thing and taking their health seriously. However, their GP's opinion still had higher value to the majority of the volunteers than the Internet information.
The positive experiences reported by the patients included:
- the GP listening
- the doctor addressing their concerns
- the doctor giving his/her professional opinion and support
Other patients, however, revealed that the GPs 'disregarded the information' or were 'unwilling to admit their lack of knowledge'. Some even believed that the doctor had felt 'undermined or threatened' and that they had to make sure they presented the information property.
Professor Roger Jones, Editor of the BJGP, said:
"While this study is based on a relatively small number of patients, it is likely to be indicative of what most GPs are seeing in their consultations every day. Patients of all ages use the internet and many now attend their GP appointment with information that they have researched themselves."
Although most GPs were doubtful of patients "googling" symptoms in the past, the majority are now allowing it to further their discussions with the patients and involving them more, which can result in a more effective consultation.
Professor Jones explained:
"It is very encouraging to see patients taking an interest in their health and the internet can be a useful means of finding out more about health concerns. It would be wrong to disregard the efforts patients are making to do this, but GPs will also advise caution because there are a lot of dubious sites providing information that is not based on evidence, which can be quite misleading when taken out of context."
This research should inspire GPs, said Parvathy Bowes, research leader at University College London, because it shows them that patients value their professional opinion and that they can respond appropriately by listening to the patients and engaging with their agenda.
According to Antony Chuter, Chair of the Patient Partnership Group at the RCGP, this finding demonstrates that patients' views are taken seriously, while motivating doctors to listen to patients' concerns.
"Patients are keen to become more involved in their own health and studies such as this demonstrate the benefits." Chuter conceded.
Written by Sarah Glynn