Thursday, January 10, 2008

Patient, Educate Thyself

Dr. Rahul K. Parish published today a provocative piece, "Is there a doctor in the Mouse," on It examines how doctors relate to patients who use the Internet to arm themselves with health information. He concludes that doctors should guide patients to high-quality web sites, both to reduce the chance that patients receive misinformation as well as to reinforce the physician's advice, as patients typically remember only about half of what a doctor tells them.

Many concerns doctors have about patient Internet research are well-founded. The Internet is rife with misinformation. Further, patients rarely know how to interpret results of studies and clinical trials that often apply only to patients fitting a narrow profile - something I learned as a lawyer advising healthcare companies, rather than as a patient.

But for doctors to "wish away" the Internet ignores inevitability and misses an opportunity. Intelligent people are going to seek health information on the Internet and try to make sense of it. And they are likely to be better and more compliant patients as a result. I imagine that nothing frustrates a doctor more than a passive patient who shows little interest in his or her care and expects the doctor alone to cure-all with magic potions and reassuring words.

But patients need to be realistic and know that Internet research is unlikely to put them on the same level as their doctor - and if they believe it does, they should find a new doctor. Doctors have years of rigorous education and training and hopefully have seen many patients with similar conditions as yours, and have support networks to consult as well.

I research to a farethewell everything a doctor tells me. I go into a visit armed with questions, observations and suggestions, and even research the answers I receive. But I trust the judgment of the doctors I have chosen, and don't try to substitute my judgment for theirs. If I serious reservations about their conclusions, I'll visit another doctor and get a second opinion. The primary reason I use the Internet to search health is, as Dr. Parish wrote, because it's easier to follow advice if you fully understand it, and the reason for it.

The FindingDulcinea Web Guide to Health
has helpful information on how to approach health research and what to do with your findings, suggests how you can improve your doctor visits, and provides annotated links to credible sources of information from physicians' groups, the federal government, and well-established medical authorities.

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