APCO alumna Amanda Beadle was the lead author on this piece.

Technology enables people to take charge of their own health. Instead of estimating active minutes during the day, step trackers tell people if they’ve met their goals for the day. Instead of writing a pulse rate at different times in the day, monitors register it on demand. And instead of making a list of questions and symptoms to raise during a doctor’s visit, people turn to Google and WebMD.

As people participate in decisions about their care, the days of patients passively receiving treatment plans are over. According to an APCO Insight survey of health care providers, nearly nine in 10 U.S. doctors increasingly see patients who have their own views about appropriate treatment options. Think about it: when was the last time you asked your doctor if a certain medication was right for you? Or asked if you needed to see a certain specialist for a persistent pain?

Doctors see their patients becoming more involved in their care – and they generally view it as a good step. As the trend of patients turning to online information continues, however, doctors also want to maintain their traditional role as the health advisor.

For example, when Google rolled out its health condition feature in 2015 to help provide accurate information to people wanting to learn more about a specific disease, the company worked with a team of doctors and the Mayo Clinic to check the information. But because the information is accurate does not mean it is the only source doctors want their patients to use. Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, told TIME in 2015 that the information provided by Google is “not such a bad thing.” “People just need to remember that this is meant to aid them, but it’s not a substitute for health care,” Caplan said.

There are benefits to patient involvement, of course. More than half of doctors agree that involving patients in treatment plans for chronic conditions improves compliance and health outcomes, and 30 percent of doctors strongly agree that patients should be equal partners with doctors in making care decisions. Studies back up what doctors see. Observational studies show that patients who receive patient-centered care report better health outcomes, and one review found that informing, educating, and involving patients in their chronic care management are effective strategies.

The move toward patient-centered care models dovetails with the increase of online health information at patients fingertips and devices readily available to track personal data. The APCO Insight survey found that 31 percent of doctors strongly favor the move toward patient empowerment as people become more educated and more involved in their health care. Moving forward, it will be important for doctors to continue learning how to balance patient involvement with their care with a desire to maintain a traditional health advisor role in order to achieve the best health outcomes.

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Chrystine Zacherau

Chrystine Zacherau, director with APCO Insight, provides opinion research and analysis in the health care sector. Read More