Do you know what your patients are searching for?

October 15, 2020
An analysis of search terms related to certain eye care reveals what patients are looking for: education. They want to know about treatments.
Do you know what your patients are searching for?

When patients go to the internet to search for information on eye conditions—something they’re now doing with greater frequency—what are they looking for? Becker’s Health IT reported last year that daily health-related searches on Google come 70,000 queries a minute.

According to a new analysis, researchers reviewed Google Trends data from Jan. 1, 2004, to Jan. 1, 2020, for the following conditions and found these to be most frequently searched, in order: cataract, glaucoma, nearsightedness (myopia), diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration with total search queries among them of more than 907.9 trillion. Data was assessed by relative search frequency value. Researchers also classified the search results into categories based on information on the websites. Those categories included disease education, treatment education and other health information (such as general eye searches and eye diseases, and professional inquiry).

Significantly, the most common search category for cataract was treatment education; for glaucoma, disease education; for macular degeneration, disease education; and for myopia, disease education. The analysis, published by the American Journal of Ophthalmology on Oct. 8, notes the internet can be a powerful resource of information for patients and doctors. But researchers also raise the issue of information accuracy and the role of doctors in the mix.

“These results may inform future patient education practices,” write the researchers, noting that patients get a sense of empowerment from finding the information “quickly and for free.”

A recent AOA-commissioned survey, “AOA American Consumer Survey,” conducted September-October 2020, underscores elements of the study. The findings show: 

  • Americans overwhelmingly want health care providers to explain what is happening during appointments (95%) and to share the reason for each component of their examination (93%).
  • 85% of Americans say preventative care is extremely important to them and 79% rely on their doctors to tell them what is best for them.
  • 80% of Americans say they feel comfortable visiting their doctor of optometry, but 57% don’t see a doctor if they don’t have a specific concern.

‘The greatest responsibility in educating patients’

Daniel Bintz, O.D., who practices in Elk City, Oklahoma, notes the internet’s impact. Dr. Bintz appreciates well-educated patients but also cautions them when their internet information is faulty.

“The 70,000 health-related searches per minute,” Dr. Bintz says. “It’s amazing how the internet and search engines have changed our lives on so many levels. Unfortunately, not all health information is ‘peer reviewed’ or even close to that. Doctors know more about reliable information, and that’s a plus. And with most doctors of optometry having computers in the exam room, it is easy to Google search ‘macular degeneration’ and then pull up literally thousands of photos to help educate patients while they’re in the office.

“I usually educate while I am examining,” he says. “I tell them what I am looking at and what can go wrong and how to fix it. And with every patient, I always say after every visit, ‘if you have any other questions, contact me or if you think you need to see me, call.’ And that’s after I ask them if they have any questions regarding that day’s visit.”

The role of doctors in educating patients is essential, says Michael Duenas, O.D., AOA chief public health officer.

“The results demonstrate where providers have the greatest responsibility in educating their patients.” Dr. Duenas says. “For example, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults, but the study shows that it scored at the lower end of search queries. The study points out that cataract and glaucoma, while scoring higher, ‘are diseases that affect the population at-large, whereas diabetes and, consequently, diabetic retinopathy, have a racial and socioeconomic status component that contributes to disease disparities.’ This underscores the need for optometrists and their staff to continue to assume and expand patient diabetes education in their practices.

“While the study outcome of cataract garnering the most queries was expected, its insight comes in the drill-down of the queries, which showed that queries requesting information on treatment education were most common,” he adds. “This goes hand-in-hand with the need for optometry to educate patients on intraocular lens selection based on their particular needs.”

Find AOA patient education resources at AOA Marketplace.

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