Helping patients navigate the Web is tricky, but worthwhile

This issue includes stories on patients using the Internet to diagnose themselves, on low back pain (one of the most common reasons for a clinical visit), and on managing a physician's online reputation.

Most patients and physicians are very familiar with “Dr. Google,” one nickname for the now common practice of using the Internet to self-diagnose aches and pain. Some patients may view online research as a way to empower themselves about their care, while some physicians may fear that if patients uncover inaccurate information they'll have to rule out more “zebras” during each visit than ever before. Today's tools can be of benefit, experts say, if physicians engage with patients about them and help them interpret what they find. In our story, Stacey Butterfield delves into the online resources available to patients, looks at the pros and cons, and talks to physicians for suggestions about how best to incorporate these resources in everyday practice.

To continue the Internet theme, we turn to physicians' online presence, which has become increasingly important in recent years. Patients and colleagues can now look to rating sites and social media to share and gather opinions on doctors' practices as they would for any other business. Wondering whether to respond to a bad online review, whether to combine personal and professional webpages, and even whether to have a webpage at all are just a few of the tricky questions that all physicians will need to answer. This issue features a Q&A with blogger and ACP Member Kevin Pho, MD, well known for his popular website Dr. Pho advises how to establish and maintain an online presence, deal with negative information, and promote yourself and your practice.

Another story addresses back pain, one of the most common reasons patients visit internists' offices and potentially one of the most frustrating problems to treat. A quick fix is often impossible to achieve, and the “wait-and-see” approach advocated by guidelines can be difficult for patients to accept. Our story looks at how internists can manage patients' expectations regarding treatment and offers tips on overcoming barriers to provision of evidence-based care.

Finally, this issue also features a profile of Aziz Kamali, MD, FACP, a general internist and professor who is dedicated to helping improve health care in Afghanistan. Fifteen years ago, he started a clinic for Afghan refugees in Pakistan; the clinic moved to Afghanistan in 2008 and is now a 30-bed hospital in Jalalabad. Dr. Kamali's plans for the future include a state-of-the-art hospital that will both provide health care to Afghan patients and help train new health care professionals.

Please let us know your opinions of the articles in this issue. As always, we'd love to hear from you.


Jennifer Kearney-Strouse