Online interactive healthcare removes emotional intelligence

Zan McPherson

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You’re sick and you don’t know what ails you. What do you do? Do you go to the doctor or search your symptoms on Google? Just as a wild guess, I’d estimate that you would rather spend thirty minutes or more looking up medical information online than calling the doctor to schedule an appointment.

This common decision comes, as you would probably know, with the risk of misinformation. Much of the medically-focused Internet is based on user-generated forums and the biased marketing of certain products. It is easy to get lost in the stories that unknown users tell of rare, horrifying diagnoses and simple symptoms that lead toward some fatal disease. It is also easy to fall for advice on the Internet that benefits the website’s own profit and not the patient’s health.

Likewise, using the Internet as a resource for information on personal health drains medical care of its emotional and psychological element. With the importance of emotional intelligence climbing to the forefront of medical training and success, one would think that physicians would gradually distance themselves from the Internet. But as Tom Brand, executive director of the medical consulting firm Avid Design verifies, “there’s been a huge buzz” about moving patient care into this realm.

It’s a dangerous buzz. The extent of the rapid growth and development of online interactive healthcare websites is astounding. Hospitals are creating video tutorials, programs for virtual check-ups and even remote sensors that can relay vital signs. An article published in 2001 in the “Indian Academy of Clinical Medicine” entitled “The Internet: It’s Role in Medicine and Healthcare” claims, “Such technology means that, in 20 years’ time, many patients will no longer need to travel to see a specialist.”

Some physicians and companies (for example social networking sites like “Patients Like Me”) believe that these online resources increase the quality of patient care. But, nothing on the internet can match the quality of face-to-face contact with a doctor. Complete healthcare requires an honest, in-depth conversation, and moving doctor-to-patient interactions online compromises the emotional care that patients both want and need.

In his book “Emotional Intelligence,” Daniel Goleman goes into depth regarding the necessity of emotional care of patients. Anger, anxiety and depression, he says, have been proven to actually stagnate the recovery process, suppress the immune system and damage certain organs. Shifting medical care into such an impassive arena, therefore, compromises both patients’ happiness and physical health.

I am often scared by what the Internet tells me about my symptoms, and my mother, a practicing physician, sometimes scares me just the same. Whichever method you choose, you are likely to encounter something you don’t want to hear. The difference is that doctors can reassure you, care for you and provide trustworthy information. This is the most valuable aspect of healthcare, and it can’t be destroyed by the impersonal advances of online technology.

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