Can Patients Know Too Much?

(as published in the Syracuse Post Standard August 2, 2011)

Recently a series of videos appeared on a doctor education website, attempting to teach doctors how to deal with difficult patients. One of the videos was entitled, “The Patient Who Knows Too Much.”

That video sparked a heated debate among empowered patients and professionals. Can patients possibly know TOO much about their medical challenges and needs?

My opinion on this controversy might surprise you.

I don’t think the real question is whether patients can know too much. In fact, I think most of our doctors prefer we understand our health challenges and the steps needed to manage or get past them.

Instead, I think the real problem is how we patients approach our doctors with what we have learned, too often putting stock in misinformation. We arrive in our doctors’ offices with a fistful of computer print outs – information we’ve gleaned from our web searches that may, or may not, be appropriate to our conditions. It’s not that we know too much. It’s that we are curious about points the doctor believes to be wrong or irrelevant.

When the doctor finds us in the exam room with that stack of printed pages, whether or not he realizes it, he may become defensive. He may even be insulted. He has spent years getting an education and amassing experience. Before him sits a patient who thinks she is knowledgeable because she spent an hour on the Internet.

Further, it’s not that he believes his patient knows too much. It’s that appointment times are short, and he knows she will have a litany of questions about her findings, many of which do not apply to her diagnosis or symptoms, and some of which are false information.

But we empowered patients do have questions! We constantly find information we want to discuss. So what should we do instead?

Begin by making sure the information you find is credible and reliable. Here are some guidelines:  When you find possibly useful information you would like to discuss with your doctor, prepare some notes and questions to take to your next appointment. Then leave the print-outs at home.

During your appointment, ask, “Doctor, what do you know about X?”  You’ll be asking for his expertise, not putting him on the defensive.

Patients cannot possibly know too much. But they can certainly come across as if they do. Don’t let that approach come between you and your doctor.


How to Verify Credible Health Information

Sharing Internet Health Information With Your Doctor

Use Blogs and Wikis to Find Health Information

Government Health Websites


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Trisha Torrey
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