In the age of WebMD, the average American has more and faster access to medical and healthcare related information than ever before. By simply typing symptoms into Google’s search bar, the internet provides an overwhelming amount of information. After a bit of research on a condition, many patients feel they know almost as much about his/her condition as her physician and behave—more like doctors-in-training than traditional patients.
Informed patients are not necessarily a bad thing. Patients with more information about their conditions and treatment options are ultimately more proactive and better patients. But what’s missing from online medical searches isn’t the amount or accuracy of information available; it’s all the context and expertise needed to interpret it. Doctors have a lot of graduate level, specialized training, knowledge and experience in the field of medicine and within their respective fields of specialty.
While I believe it is good for everyone to have an understanding of their own body, unless you went to medical school, the average person is operating without an owner’s manual and should seek out their physician’s expertise for advice and insight on their condition. Much like going to an auto mechanic, many of us only have only a remedial understanding of auto mechanics regardless of how many You-tube videos you have watched.
A typical patient might present to the doctor stating the following: “I think I have sciatica.” Or “I need a A1C blood test to rule out diabetes.” Although a self-diagnoses can be a great place to start, a physician will however work with the patient to understand their condition while establishing an overall understanding of the patient’s history and lifestyle to uncover what is wrong with the body and obtain a specific diagnosis of the problem. Moving on from there the physician and patient should discuss how best to manage their condition. During the process of informed consent, the physician will also outline what their treatment options are along with the potential risks and benefits of those treatments. Only with this patient-specific information and physician partnership can a patient make an educated and informed decision regarding their health.
The lesson to be learnt here is…that online medical information from Dr. Google can and will lead to better patient outcomes- but only if patients leverage what they find to engage in a richer, more productive dialogue with their doctors.
In part II of this series, I will discuss dealing with the road blocks that obstruct your access to healthcare, and how best to partner with your doctor to overcome them.