Doctor Google

I raise my hand.  Guilty!  I’m a huge Googler on all things medical.

Every medical professional will tell you, “Don’t Google this”…do they really think adults are any less tempted by the word “don’t” than a toddler?

For one thing, Doctor, if you spent more than 15 minutes with me, I may not need to Google it.  For another thing, Doctor, I need to both verbalize and see (read) information to best understand it.  Finally, Doctor, I’m a human.  I want to personalize the huge words, facts and statistics that you just gave to me.  How will my life be impacted outside of the clinic or the hospital? What are the questions, that I don’t even know to ask, that I should be asking?

While I can sing the praises of Google.  I do also understand the warnings.  For example, you may spend a little time on Google and suddenly become convinced that your  boyfriend (now husband) just gave you Chlamydia when you actually have a Bladder Infection.  You might even be so convinced that before you go to the doctor, you accuse your boyfriend (now husband) of giving you said STD.  It might be a little awkward, if you mess that up.  (No, of course, this is not a personal story, it’s just an example of what some random, irresponsible Googler might do.  Clearly, a very silly person).

Knowing that we all do it, here are my two rules for medical information and the internet.

  1. The internet is not for diagnosing:  
    1. Symptom Checker:  My earlier example should be the case in point enough, but let me belabor the point.  For the sake of an example, I just put in two lower abdomen symptoms;  Moderate, gradual discomfort and diarrhea   Guess how many possible conditions came back?  SEVENTY-NINE!  Just perusing the top 10 possible conditions, they ranged from menstrual cramps to rectal cancer.  Reading these things are just going to put you into a panic, when that may not be necessary.  If you’re worried enough to search it, just see the doctor.
    2. Social Media Forums:  I love my preemie and feeding tube groups as a place for support and camaraderie.  I ask questions like, “I’m considering a g-tube belt now that Owen’s more mobile.  Has anyone used them and with what result?”  or I might say, “Wow, Pediasure is expensive, any ideas of where to get it for the best price?” and I even might ask, “Owen’s PT  feels he might need a brace as he learns to walk.  We see the doctor next week.  Who has experienced braces and what questions would you suggest I ask as we make the plan?”  There are many times that other parents have great advice in these situations.  However,  I cringe every time I see someone go on a public forum with a list of 3-4 symptoms and ask a group what they think it may be.  And, then I cringe even more when people start answering with a diagnosis and a treatment.  NO,  NO. NO.  Unless your forum is your medical team that knows your complete history, they should not be diagnosing or treating you.  Remember, each person is unique in what symptoms they reveal and what medications work best to treat their symptoms.  Here’s an example; I know one preemie family that just stopped treating their child with oxygen as long as he keeps his oxygen saturation above 85 (pulmonary orders).  Owen’s pulmonary orders are to stay above 94 and I know that if he’s not above 96 that he’s sick and will go into distress if I don’t increase his support.  For Owen, 94 means I’m weighing the pros and cons of going to the doctor.  For the other family, 94 is a great day.  Both are preemies with severe BPD and assumed Asthma but they have completely different treatment because they respond differently to the treatment.
  2. Once you’ve seen your doctor and have a diagnosis, go to credible sources for further information. If you would not cite the source on a term paper it’s not credible.  Patient savvy doctors will tell you places to read more information, or might even print out some information for you.  If they don’t offer information, ask.  They owe you the ability to process and understand a diagnosis in the way that works best for your learning style.  You can also check out medical sites. Some of my favorites are:
    1. Mayo Clinic
    2. Medscape (emedicine)
    3. PubMed Heath
    4. MedlinePlus
I know those rules don’t seem very earth shattering, but I’m shocked how frequently I see them broken – especially on social forums.  Next time you see someone asking for a diagnosis on a social forum, please answer with something like, “Your doctor, or a nurse line would be the best place to get the answers that are specific to you. To get prepared for that doctor’s appointment, you might want to use this guide.”