Is Dr Google making us ill?
Last week I had a rash on my rib cage under my breast. It has gone now of its own accord.
It was probably just the heat or my bra irritating my skin because of the humidity. Maybe even the new washing powder because I get allergies. But for a few hours of utter devastation and despair late at night I thought I had been struck with a hideous ailment.
Sitting alone in a dark room, with nothing but my fear and the computer screen, many horrible possibilities jumped out of me. I was ready to call an ambulance. Itchy breast can mean cancer; a rash on that side of the body in one spot can be the shingles virus, a derivative of childhood chickenpox and excruciatingly painful.
The more I read the more I realised I had other symptoms too. In fact I tested positive via Google to myriad things: sore shoulders, yes; dry hair, yes; lethargy, yes; moons disappearing on nails, OMG yes; increased thirst, yes; stress, yes! I could have an auto-immune disease or even the Zika virus. Many mosquito-borne viruses start with a rash … so does meningococcal.
This may sound neurotic and ludicrous, which I can be. But the most ludicrous thing is that hits on medical diagnosis sites are at epidemic proportions, alongside self-remedies. They call it cyberchondria. Now characterised in the Oxford dictionary as “[People] compulsively searching the internet for information about particular real or imagined symptoms of illness”.
Hits on medical sites are second in volume only to pornography. The minute anything goes wrong with us or our kids, people are on Google working out if there are dangerous symptoms. Very few people get relieved because, like me, they inevitably discover something they didn’t even know they needed to be worried about. Or they catastrophise to the point of distress over nothing.
My friend who is a doctor says he feels like throttling people.
“Everyone knows more than you nowadays. You can’t tell anyone anything! And they try to ask questions in language from the internet without knowing what they mean, like ‘I need a free T3 thyroid test.’ When I ask why, they say ‘blahh blahh site said I should’.
“I have 30 years’ experience. I’m happy people are becoming educated and I can talk to some at a higher level, but most are just parroting.”
So far the trend is not detracting from visits to doctors because it’s alerting people to the fact they urgently need a second opinion, tests, scans for things they often don’t have.
At any rate the incidents of anxiety is rising due to cyberchondria — go Google a cure for that.
I have over 20 years experience as a medical specialist and have two comments. The first is that there are reputable medical sites online (such as the Mayo Clinic and National Institutes of Health in the USA) as well as professional medical sites with open access guidelines for diagnosis and treatment. However you need some technical knowledge to be able to read and understand some of the content. There are also some websites with ignorant, misleading and potentially dangerous advice, posted by individuals with their own agenda and biases. A medical consumer should be very discerning as to where they source online information.
My second comment is that I welcome discussion and questions with my patients, as I am well trained and experienced and can always justify and explain my advice. However this approach requires considerably more time and so results in higher consulting fees for those patients. I will give a new patient well over an hour of my time if they need it, but obviously the fee for such a consultation will be very different to that for a 20 minute one.
Google has many excellent research and medical articles. Many Doctors use Google to up date themselves. But object when their Patients do the same! The problem isn’t people using google, as the article suggests its the person themselves. if they happen to be neurotic in the first place. But some doctors have a ‘god’ like belief about their knowledge so object if their patient seems to know too much!
So why to people use Google anyway? Its because they want to take some responsibility for their own health instead of sitting passively in the Doctors office listening to some time pressured GP or Specialist downloading at speed what they ‘think’ is the issue and then coming up with a rapid fire solution, but with no time for questions or discussion. So its better to go pre-armed with some helpful information so you can at least know if the ‘almighty’ One has understood, and is well informed, or perhaps, which can often happen, isn’t! Some doctors do not like to have their opinions questioned or other possibilities and solutions presented, so its better to find a doctor who isn’t so easily threatened and has a listening ear and a respectful attitude. Just my experience and as an RN some can find that a bit of a threat too.
He think he sums up their holier than though attitude, when he concedes he can now talk to a small number his patients at the higher level.
Well I take anything someone from the Australian medical profession says with a grain of salt. There is a legion of people out there with a medically identifiable condition (tick bacteria) that this country’s GP and pathologists ignore. So excuse me if I yawn at their frustration at their patients trying to become more informed and not taking their Words as golden. Along the way their oath changed its form from Hippocratic to hypocritic(al).
@Vivien and yet when your naturopathic iridologist reflexologist friend has emptied your wallet, your kind crawls reluctantly into my room, begging for help and complaining at the cost of scripts. Demanding Centerlink Certificates saying they can’t be fit for work because they are sad, shitty, tired, diabetic,obese, female. etc etc.
See. We can generalise patients too.
Generalisation is crap . It goes both ways. Suck it up.
And for your education I have diagnosed a Lyme disease in Australia. From an American visitor.
Sup that with your salt.
I had a career as a double certificate nursing sister and I often feel (not like throttling people but) amazed about what people tell me or say to me. Apart from not knowing what nurses must learn and know, they are a very good example of ‘a little knowledge can be bad (or dangerous)’. To imagine that you can read something on the internet about health and suddenly become expert is absurd.They have no idea about the intricate and complex systems of human physiology or even anatomy, both of which I studied formally (at university) in conjunction with my training. There is nothing more amazing (truly) than the intricate and detailed ‘design’ if you will of the human body. And all the systems of it work in synchronization to maintain balance and survival. For example someone told me not long ago that some tea I was suggesting simply by way of pleasing beverage would be good because it would make the blood more acid! Che?! And why would you want that anyway? Watching Doc Martin must be very therapeutic for a lot of physicians. Mind you, a lot of the same nonsense in educational trends occur also now in training doctors. And they certainly do not make them like they used to!
A sadly superficial write-up which misses the real point. Whatever happened to intelligent judgement and reasoning ability ? Intelligence is knowing how to understand, sift, evaluate information and to set it in its sensible wider context; a rapidly diminishing accomplishment. Nothing wrong with looking up medical sites to find out more background to our known conditions or new diagnoses. But anyone who takes a limited piece of information from surfing the Net and immediately extrapolates it to the acquisition of a new disease or ailment needs to do something about both their thinking processes and their emotional stability. I look up medical sites for example after MRIs or Catscans for my seriously injured spine in order to understand the technical terms in the written report. Then I can shorten the next session with my G,P. or specialists by asking more intelligent questions. Similarly when a friend had a shock diagnosis of Grand Mal epilepsy in her son, it was reassuring for us to look up reputable medical sites ( e.g University Medical Schools) to help understand the condition. Major outcome – reassurance for her about improved medical techniques in managing it. You can’t limit information because some people without a sense of proportion or an ability to judge it, then misuse it.
Nothing – nothing – replaces clinical experience.
As Aristotle says, “It is an easy matter to know the effects of honey, wine, hellebore, cautery, and cutting. But to know how, for whom, and when we should apply these as remedies is no less an undertaking than being a physician.”
The problem is not that people have easy access to health information; that is great.
The problem is that they have no real understanding with which to apply that information.
Too many think that Google transforms them into a physician.
I disagree with Ruth’s diagnosis.As a person who has a PhD in a field far removed from medicine and has faced some serious medical challenges of my own this last 12 months, Google has been an amazing source of information.Sure, there is some medically misleading rubbish on the internet.Just as there is quackery and ineptitude in some doctor’s surgeries around Australia.However, most of us (journalists more so) are, or at least should be, sensible enough to sort out the misinformation on the internet from the facts.
At best, one only gets 20 minutes with a Specialist. My preference is to use Google to read up on a topic, get my head around what some of the terms with big words means, and have a list of relevant questions before I go in. Once back home, use Google again to check out exactly what the prescribed medicines do. Just because I use Google, I don’t see myself in competition with the GP or Specialist. Rather, I see myself as a better informed patient who is trying really hard to understand exactly what the Doctor is saying and doing my best to comply. Of course, if Dr Google was taken away from us, we could always revert back to the old ways and listen to the advice from our mother-in-laws. Apparently, there is less chance of going blind that way!
Google gives you all of the knowledge but none of the perspective.
Nothing replaces the experience of the real doctor to sift out the distractors and to either make a diagnosis or to declare something ‘nothing to worry about’.
However a well informed patient who takes an active role in their treatment is always preferable to someone who doesn’t care or comply with advice so google does help there – as long as they work with their doctor and not against him using google as ammunition to meddle.