mother with baby having video chat with doctor

The internet has changed everything. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about making dinner reservations or finding a mechanic for your car, having an unending amount of information available online has made the internet the default resource when people want to know something. The internet has even impacted family medicine and the jobs that go with it.

A fascinating study recently released by Merck Manuals shows just how pervasive the internet is in family medicine. The survey posed numerous questions to more than 200 family doctors in order to determine their perceptions of the internet and how it has impacted what they do.

Responses were surprising on the one hand but expected on the other. The three primary takeaways from the survey are explained below. Needless to say that today’s family medicine jobs are a lot different than the jobs previous generations worked – whether practice owners, employees, or locum tenens.

1. Patients Are Misinformed

A shocking 97% of all the doctors surveyed said their patients come to the office misinformed. Among them were 90% of family physicians. The doctors believe that most of their patients search online for medical information long before coming to the office. As a result, they tend to take what they read online as the gospel truth with the expectation that the doctor will confirm their already formed assumptions.

More often than not, misinformation tends to cause patients to assume the worst-case scenario rather than the most common cause of whatever problem is bothering them, the surveyed doctors said. This could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.

2. Doctors Are Being Reviewed

The next key finding is the reality that doctors now know they are being reviewed online. Some think online reviews are a good idea, others bristle at the thought of the medical profession being thought of with the same kind of review mentality that applies to hotels and restaurants. But it is what it is.

Doctors now find themselves in a position of having to create a good ‘customer experience’ with every office visit. If they don’t, they stand the chance of getting a bad review. And make no mistake about it, a bad review is as damaging to a family medicine practice as it is a restaurant or hotel.

3. Looking Online for New Providers

Lastly, the internet has changed the way people search for, and find, new providers. It used to be that people relied on referrals from friends and other medical facilities to find their doctors. Many chose the nearest doctor that was a part of the insurance network they belonged to. But no more.

Patients now spend time scouring the internet whenever they need a new provider. Their criteria may be the same – i.e., they still look at distance, office hours, convenience, etc. – but they are also swayed by things like social media posts and content marketing.

This suggests that doctors and their family medicine practices need to be savvy internet marketers if they want to continue competing for new patients. Even though practicing medicine has required more than just putting a sign on the door for the last several decades, it is even more important now for doctors to actively market themselves.

We have known for a while that the internet has impacted locum tenens family medicine via both recruiting and finding jobs. But the Merck Manuals survey shows that its impact is far greater than previously imagined. It is up to the medical profession to keep up with the pace of the internet. Otherwise, it will be left behind.