Background Two-thirds of all patients search the internet prior to a health consultation. Aim To explore how searching for online health information before visiting a doctor influences patients’ behaviour during the consultation. Design & setting A quantitative, observational, and cross-sectional study of 18–75-year-old patients who used the internet. Method Patients were recruited by social media for the quantitative study. This was followed by a qualitiative study of GPs who were questioned in focus groups. Two questions were addressed: What is the effect of searching online health information on the behaviour of the patients? How does the GP handle this information? Results Almost half of all responders (total n = 963) usually went to the doctor after the online information search but two-thirds were not reassured by the internet search. More than half of responders had more confidence in their GP after searching online. The older the responders, the more they went to the doctor after their internet search and the younger the responders, the more they were worried. The more frequently people consulted the internet for specific complaints, the more likely they reported reassurance. Discussion Patients usually made an appointment with their GP after the internet search. New symptoms are rarely noticed and the search usually did not lead patients to distrust their GP. The majority of GPs described positive effects of the online search behaviour on the consultation. Conclusion The emerging use of the internet for searching health information, commonly referred to as 'Dr Google', is not seen as a threat by GPs and leads to a better mutual understanding of symptoms and diagnosis.
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