Physical Therapists’ education, training, and skill set allows our profession to uniquely evaluate and treat the needs of both acute and chronic musculoskeletal conditions. In this role we have consistently demonstrated great patient outcomes at a lower cost than others members of the healthcare team. Education is one of the most important interventions we can provide to patients. Spending up to an hour with patients allows us to educate them on their condition, how to avoid unnecessary imaging, medication, or surgery, and how to properly manage their unique symptoms. Unfortunately, many patients are without a local PT and are utilizing the Internet prior to seeing a Physical Therapist in attempt to find some of the same information.
A recent study by Bisson et al. set out to find how accurate patients are at self diagnosis after using the internet (Ortho J Sp Med, 2015). The authors created a web based program to collect patient information on their injury and then generate a list of potential diagnoses to explain their symptoms. The web system had the ability to generate a list of over 20 knee diagnoses based on the the entered information. After each patient selected the diagnosis they felt was most consistent with their symptoms they were examined and diagnosed by an orthopedic surgeon. The patient's list of probable diagnoses was incorrect 42% of the time, but 58% of the 200 patients had the diagnosis in their list of choices from the web based system.
Clearly, a web based system cannot replace the expertise of an orthopedic specialist but may assist a patient with determining a diagnosis based off their symptoms up to 60% of the time. One limitation of any web based system is the inability to recognize the individual symptoms and factors which create the unique presentation of their case. Only a trained clinician can recognize these individual differences and change the diagnosis or plan of care accordingly.
Patient's are using the internet with mixed results to determine the cause of their symptoms, remedies for recovery, and the prognosis. In our practice, our phone and email lines of communication are always open for past patients to use us as a resource and many take advantage allowing us to remain an educator for pain and sports injuries. Find a local, knowledgeable PT and use them as a resource for your pains. The information you receive is likely more accurate than anything you can obtain through a web based search.