Dr. Google wants you to think he is your best friend. He is there for you day and night, no waiting rooms or office hours needed. He promises answers, and he gives them now. No testing, no lab draws. Dr. Google provides diagnoses after a few clicks on a keyboard and delivers the news in minutes, if not seconds. Dr. Google will tell you what you want to know, and he is going to score highly on a patient satisfaction survey.
Dr. Google should be sued for malpractice.
The truth is that Dr. Google often does more harm than good. Information found on the Internet is often unreliable and can unnecessarily increase anxiety. Worse, it can lead to people questioning their doctor’s judgment even after they have been properly seen and examined. I admit my heart plummets when I hear the words, “but I read it on the Internet,” at the end of a visit. While I appreciate that someone wants to be proactive for their health, those words often mean my patient has an agenda and will demand certain tests and treatments even if there is not a medical indication, even if I carefully explain to them why that is the case. This happens at least once every day.
The Internet holds vast information, and while I thank Google for its entertainment value, I have to express my concerns when it comes to matters of health. This is not an attack on Google so much as it for those who post online content that is not up to snuff. Much of the medical content out there is not reliable. Here is what to watch out for.
1. Outdated content. Thanks to ongoing research, medical information is always evolving. One day cholesterol is bad for you, the next it is not. That said, is there really such a thing as evergreen content in medicine? A good source will update their content regularly. They will post when they last updated that information or at least when they last reviewed it.
2. Biased information. If you think you have a certain medical problem, it might not be hard to find information skewed in that direction. Your search words and phrases could push you towards certain content, whether or not it is the most up to date or from a reliable source. Try to be as objective as you can when doing a search.
3. Experience. Have you ever thought about who is writing all this medical content? The majority of medical writers are not doctors or nurses. Many writers have never even worked in the healthcare field, never mind received formal training in medicine. While medical writers can do research on their topics, they may not always have the experience with these conditions to fully report on some issues. Depending on want you are researching, you may want to take this into account.
4. References. How many times have you found a compelling article on a medical subject but not found a list of references to support it? The bulk of media reports falls into this category, even as they raise controversial issues and make broad sweeping claims. How can you know that the resources they used had any substance to them? Often times, information is sensationalized to drive ratings and page views. A good article will not only inform you but will let you make an educated decision on the content for yourself.
Let’s face it. If Dr. Google were a real person, there is no question he would be sued for malpractice. He often gives inaccurate diagnoses. He promotes unnecessary testing. He causes increased worry and anxiety without a proper evaluation. He does not fulfill basic standards of care. Altogether, he breaks the tenant of medicine so graciously put forth in the Hippocratic Oath: Do no harm.
I 100 percent understand the need to be independent and research what ails you. I know I do the same. With the Internet so accessible, it is too tempting not to. You need to understand that not all the information Dr. Google feeds you will hold true and you must often take search results with a grain of salt. Take my warnings above to heart. If you have a real concern, seek out an evaluation with a medical professional. They have the training and expertise to help you on the path to health or at least a diagnosis.
Tanya Feke is founder, Diagnosis Life.