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Words Matter When it Comes to Tech-Savvy Patients

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, August 24, 2010

But they might also be looking for diet and exercise programs to help reduce cholesterol based on a warning from their doctor. Or they might want to make sure they are well-prepared for a visit to the doctor in order to make the most of his or her limited time. According to the Harris poll, 51% of all so-called cyberchondriacs say they have searched for information on the Internet based on discussions with their doctors; 53% discuss the information they found online with their doctors.

In other words, not only is the Internet helping patients better communicate with their doctors, there's no evidence in the Harris poll that the patients in question are suffering from increased anxiety or unfounded escalation of concerns (with or without italics).

Now to be fair, it is unclear whether or not Harris' use of the term is pejorative. Maybe they just think it sounds catchy. And there's no doubt their data is valuable proof that patients have increasingly come to rely on the Internet for medical information since 1998.

But we are not living in 1998. So-called cyberchondriacs are now known by a less negative descriptor: well-informed, engaged, and empowered patients. Here in the year 2010, we call them e-patients. 

A note to Harris: Regardless of your intent, it's time to update your terminology.

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