When the Patient is a Googler

From the title of this Time Magazine story you’d think it was about patients seeking information online and how this impacts the relationship between the patient and his/her healthcare provider(s).

It isn’t.

This short opinion piece is instead a physician’s rationalization for getting rid of a patient who annoys him.

Susan had chosen me because she had researched my education, read a paper I had written, determined my university affiliation and knew where I lived. It was a little too much — as if she knew how stinky and snorey I was last Sunday morning. Yes, she was simply researching important aspects of her own health care. Yes, who your surgeon is certainly affects what your surgeon does. But I was unnerved by how she brandished her information, too personal and just too rude on our first meeting.

Every doctor knows patients like this. They’re called “brainsuckers.” By the time they come in, they’ve visited many other docs already — somehow unable to stick with any of them. They have many complaints, which rarely translate to hard findings on any objective tests. They talk a lot. I often wonder, while waiting for them to pause, if there are patients like this in poor, war-torn countries where the need for doctors is more dire.

Not being a physician, I don’t feel comfortable commenting on the ethical issues raised by this piece and by Dr. Haig’s decision to “punt.” That being said, I’d like to recontextualize some of the issues it raises by putting this question to readers who work in medical libraries:

If a medical librarian working in a library that served consumer healthcare information needs decided to “punt” (to get rid of the patron) instead of helping a patron because the librarian found the patron to annoying and selfish, then published an article rationalizing this behavior, what would you think of the punting librarian?

One thought on “When the Patient is a Googler

  1. There are annoying people – no doubt. BUT you have to deal with them professionally. In former times physicians had to deal with non-informed people – now physicians have to talk to informed people and yes, if neccessary put things in the right order. It’s their job – and it’s the right for everyone to care about his body and mind.
    If I have a difficult client – I still will give him the best I can – in a professional manner (if not I’m not satisfied with myself – does happen, but I certainly won’t write about it in TM).