Health IT

In Sermo polls, docs say patients listen to them, but self-diagnosis rarely accurate

In another recent member poll, physicians found problems in patient diagnoses gleaned from the Internet.


Sermo, a global social network for healthcare professionals, found in a recent physician poll that most patients listen to their doctors — or at least the doctors think so.

In a survey involving 1,122 physicians from 25 countries, 86 percent of respondents reported that most of their patients were compliant with their treatment advice. The physicians said that fewer than 25 percent of their patients chose a treatment path they did not recommend.

“Conversations on site show the huge variety of challenges and opportunities that are contained within each relationship between a patient and his or her doctor,” observed Osnat Benshoshan, Sermo’s chief marketing officer.

Benshoshan said that as patients use the web to research their own symptoms, they often misdiagnose themselves, putting doctors in the difficult position of rebutting a patient’s conclusion.

That was evidenced in another recent member poll in which physicians found problems in patient diagnoses gleaned from the Internet. That poll of 4,339 respondents from 26 countries revealed that only 8 percent of responding doctors reported that patients “frequently” arrive at an accurate diagnosis after researching their condition online. Ninety-two percent reported that patient conclusions were correct only rarely or sometimes.

Benshoshan said the polls “speak to these complexities—showing that largely, patients rely on their doctor’s expertise and recommendations when it comes to choosing a treatment plan.”

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Sermo surveyors also asked doctors whether they believe it is a physician’s responsibility to disagree with caregivers, even when that means coming between the caregiver and the patient. Seventy four percent of the 3,441 respondents said yes.

“The rise in caregivers for older patients being involved in treatment decisions presents an additional complication in this dynamic, and doctors on [our] site have expressed their struggles with the ethics of challenging a caregiver—particularly when each situation is unique and may warrant a different response.”

She said physicians are constantly sharing their own experiences with patients on Sermo and providing advice and guidance to their colleagues to improve these relationships.

Sermo respondents offer their votes anonymously to medical practice and ethics questions. But they also use the network site to ask and respond to medical practice questions from fellow physicians. Sermo, which counts members in more than 30 countries in its “virtual doctors’ lounge,” conducts polls among its 600,000 physician members around the world.

While Sermo has conducted scientific polling for more than 10 years for pharmaceutical companies and others, the 11-year-old firm has been taking what it calls SermoSays sentiment polls on a variety of topics. Recent ones include whether the upcoming Rio Olympics should be cancelled, postponed or transferred because of the Zika virus (55 percent, no, 45 percent yes); whether pain should be considered a “vital sign” (56 percent no, 44 percent yes) and topics as wide-ranging as breastfeeding, overprescribing pain medication and physician suicide.

Screening for autism, end of life conversations, e-cigarette advertising restrictions and personal level of happiness are among the poll topics.

Photo: Flickr user Theresa Thompson