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Humanizing the Doctor-Patient Relationship, Online

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Every one of us has gone through the agonizing experience of an exam room visit where a physician takes notes on our condition but offers little measure of warmth or personal exchange. We wait until they complete their written assessment, utter a few indistinguishable words, and make their exit without so much as a well wish. While most physicians are committed caregivers, establishing an inviting bedside manner can be more art than science.

And yet, a physician's bedside manner is one of the most important factors when it comes to patient reviews. According to a recent survey conducted by my company, Avvo.com, a doctor's willingness to listen, answer questions, and explain conditions -- was the top factor cited in 43 percent of positive online patient reviews. This far outranked the physician's demonstrated knowledge, which was cited in just 10 percent of positive reviews.

This underscores the notion that the days of merely taking the proverbial "doctor's orders" have long since passed. Today's patients are savvy, knowledgeable, and empowered. The internet provides a plethora of health information, and patients are accessing that information to take a more active role in their healthcare decisions. They are also using the internet to find new doctors for themselves and family members. According to the same survey, over 60 percent of respondents cited patient reviews as a primary influencer when selecting a new doctor online. This ranked slightly behind disciplinary history as an important factor for consumers when considering and comparing medical professionals.

Physicians, too, are getting savvier when it comes to social media. According to a recent Manhattan Research report, 60 percent say they use or want to use social networking to engage with their patients and enhance their reputation. Without question, doctors can use social media to "humanize" themselves with their current and prospective patient base by engaging with patients through online Q&A forums, using tools like Facebook and Twitter to participate in conversations, and ultimately being more accessible to patients outside of the now eight-minutes-on-average appointment time.

While the internet will never -- and should never -- replace a patient's in-person interaction with his or her doctor, it has created an unprecedented level of access to information about various symptoms and conditions, and also about the doctors themselves. It's critical that patients do their homework to find a doctor who not only has the best credentials, but who is also going to offer the kind of personal care they are seeking.

Mark Britton is the founder and CEO of Avvo, a free online resource that rates and profiles 90 percent of all doctors and lawyers in the U.S.

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