When I started my practice, we did not have access to the Internet. People used physicians as a source of essential knowledge for healthcare. One of the great advantages of the Internet is that it has raised our medical IQ. Not just for patients, but for physicians as well.
This has affected the role of the physician in several way. First of all it has allowed for a more equal playing field where patients have easy access to information and the ability to talk intelligently about a diagnosis or treatment option. It has highlighted the possibility of medical errors and misconceptions, and allowed patients to participate more fully in the process of creating a safer, better experience. And it has allowed people with obscure conditions to connect, find support, share ideas. These are excellent applications of the Internet that improve the quality of health and the experience for patients.
The Internet has forced many physicians to change and has clearly decreased our dependence on the ‘Dr is always right’ mentality. In my own practice where education has always been my focus, the Internet has benefited me and supported the concept of access to information being essential to improving health.
Now the focus of my practice has switched from, ‘where can I get more information’ to ‘I saw this on the Internet, is it true?’ The information overload, conflicting advice and information, data provided without context, and potentially false information crafted to look credible are all hazards of this new tool in healthcare.
The Internet, like almost everything else in life, has the capacity for health or harm. But which side of the fence you come down on has everything to do with your own personal choices. Essentially everything relating to health on the Internet is true for someone. The question is: is it true for you? Here are some things to consider. Figure out the purpose of your Internet use, to self treat or to gather more knowledge, and use that to modify how seriously you take what you read. If you are in a fact-seeking mode, simply review a wide range of opinions and make a decision about what you think. Make a list of questions to run by your physician next visit.
Using the Internet to self diagnose and treat is a bit more risky. On the Internet you often bypass the cautions and risks that are a part of the practitioners knowledge. Because of this people often call in crisis after trying something that went wrong. Lots of the medical advice and ideas printed are frankly dangerous. On the other hand, saving money and time and hassle by figuring something out on your own can be pretty empowering and assist you on your journey to becoming more self reliant in healthcare.
Match the seriousness of your condition with the risk of the treatment. Almost anyone can try a remedy for an occasional headache. But no one should be tackling the complex interplay of hormones by slathering on some natural cream they bought online. Endocrinology is much more complex than that and the effect of upsetting hormone balance is significant. Think cancer risk.
Consider how Internet access has changed your views on healthcare and affected the healthcare you access. Identify things that have benefited you and look for ways to expand those habits. Recognize how Internet Information has adversely affected your health and set some guidelines to protect yourself. Used correctly and with a little bit of caution, this tool can be a significant benefit.