Examining Healthcare Professionals’ communication around decision-making with internet-informed patients

Lauren Walker*, Elizabeth Sillence

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the last ten years the use of the internet as a health resource has transformed, and while patients increasingly consult online resources for health decision-making, less is known about how healthcare professionals (HCPs) currently discuss decision-making with internet informed patients (IIPs). In this paper we examine how HCPs perceive IIPs and specifically how bringing online information into appointments can prompt different communicative strategies around decision-making. Ten HCPs with experience working across different healthcare roles, took part in semi-structured interviews and discussed their interactions with IIPs around decision-making. Vignettes based on descriptions of real patients bringing online health information to their HCPs were used to prompt further discussion. The analysis identified two themes in relation to communication: (i) being honest about information sources and (ii) from compliance to co-construction: improving communication around decision-making. HCPs were overwhelmingly positive toward IIPs and encouraged patients to be transparent about their online searching to understand their motivations, priorities, and concerns. Although compliance remains part of the narrative, HCPs recognized practical ways in which discussing online health information could improve HCP-patient communication around shared decision-making. We discuss the findings in relation to early work on communicative strategies between HCP’s and patients bringing resources to their consultations. We argue that for HCPs the concept of the internet as a provider of health information is no longer seen as inherently damaging or risky. There is growing acceptance of pre-consultation internet searching with the caveat that any information sourced online should inform rather than dictate decision-making with HCPs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1094-1101
Number of pages8
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number6
Early online date7 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2024

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