Paging Dr. Web

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Where are you getting your medical advice? Source: JudeanPeoplesFront hide caption

toggle caption Source: JudeanPeoplesFront

I get a flu shot every year. This is partly at my mother's urging, but it also gives me peace of mind and I hate to be sick. So this year, Scott, Neal and I traipsed over to the building across the street, rolled up our sleeves and gritted our teeth, and got our shots. I had the customary sore arm for a few hours... and then, it got worse. Much worse. My shoulder was on fire, and I was popping pain relievers like chocolates. To make a long story short, I ended up at the neurologist last week, a very nice guy who banged on my knees and elbows, made me walk a straight line (maybe he thought I was drunk, who knows), and gave me a diagnosis: Brachial Plexitis. I was even more confused when he scribbled it on a sheet of paper, and suggested I Google it for myself. Huh?I was under the impression that doctors hated patients that poked around on the internet, self diagnosing. I had done a little of that before I saw the neuro — you know, "sore arm", "flu shot", etc. (Ironically, this post will now turn up when that search is done. I'm part of the solution andthe problem!) But is it a help to doctors, or a hindrance?. Well, today we'll find out about patients who are habitual Googlers — the good, and the bad, about cyberdoctoring. Have you ever consulted WebMD, or something like it to diagnose or treat a medical problem?



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I was once feeling horribly ill and so looked up my symptoms on WebMD. It seemed that I had most of the symptoms for appendicitis so I had my roommate take me to the ER. Upon arrival, because I didn't have all of the classic symptoms, the doctors accused me of having an STD. I insisted that they draw blood and it turned out that I did have appendicitis. Thank goodness for the Internet!

Sent by Rachel from Portland, OR | 2:07 PM | 12-13-2007

The Internet saved me when I had a very rare (for me) acute asthma attack recently. Barely able to breathe, I looked up acute asthma attacks and followed the advice -- sit up, open a window, use the inhaler 4-6 puffs every 5 minutes if necessary. I got through the night without going to the ER. It's never happened before, and I hope it never happens again, but thank god the info was online.

Sent by tracey | 2:13 PM | 12-13-2007

I was googling my new aetna-assigned oral surgeon to see if she had a different practice i could go to, and instead i found her mugshot and article upon article about her past which included insurance fraud, theft, and jail time... The crazy thing is that she was assigned by the insurance company!

Sent by Ashley | 2:14 PM | 12-13-2007

I have Crohn's disease and, among the many ways the internet can help, I find the online patient's community to be a great source of information as well as support from other people who have this frustrating, incurable disease. I frequent bulletin boards where I can ask any question about my symptoms, and I'll get an enormous amount of information and emotional support.

Sent by Mark R White | 2:15 PM | 12-13-2007

I grew up without health insurance and still now cannot quite afford it, so using the internet to research the possible severity of any illness is incredibly useful. I can not spend the money and time that doctors require for their services, so I need to budget my visits. I think it is also helpful for all patients (except those darned hypochondriacs) to prepare for which questions they should ask.

Sent by Krysta Jackson | 2:16 PM | 12-13-2007

Back in 1997 (early days of the web -- pre-Google!), I had some symptoms that I thought might be diabetes. I found the American Diabetes Association website, which had a list of diabetes symptoms. I had every single one. I scheduled a blood test, which confirmed what I already knew. Over the next year, it was partly due to conferring with other diabetics on the web that I realized that I had been partially misdiagnosed: I knew that I had type 1 diabetes (rather than type 2) for several months before I was able to convince my doctors of this.

Sent by janet | 2:18 PM | 12-13-2007

The problem with taking a doctor's word carte blanche is that doctors are often not honest about their biases - for example prescribing practices which are impacted by not only objective medical decision making but also pharmaceutical companies' marketing efforts. The earlier callers comment about pregnancy and delivery is another perfect example. ObGyns are trained to insert themselves in the process of childbirth - the alarming rate of csections in this country is evidence of that. Often, when you speak to an OB about natural childbirth, or god forbid, homebirth, their biases are evident, but certainly not admitted to!

Sent by Kristen Talley | 2:21 PM | 12-13-2007

I have tried to find costs of medical tests, surgeries, procedures, etc on google & web site, but have not been able to discover the costs. Also I would be very interested in knowing if the doctor has a vested interest or owns the xray or mri facility he is sending me to for the test. I have doubts on whether some of these tests are necessary & would like to see a comparison of costs, esp with knowing what my insurance carrier will pay. Sometimes I have discovered there are great differnces in pricing & what is covered. If I had known that I may not have went to the facility the dr suggested.

Sent by janet noble | 2:21 PM | 12-13-2007

There will always be "chicken little"s that will erroneously believe anything vaguely associated with their condition; but it would be mistaken to believe that your doctor knows everything about each disease or infection.

Sent by James Reynolds | 2:26 PM | 12-13-2007

just yesterday i used the net to find medical research to push my GP. i am a member of kaiser, an HMO that is reluctant to prescribe treatment. i was recently diagnosed with osteoporosis that will be aggravated over the next 28 months by taking hormones. my doctor prescribed supplements that i already take, and exercises i am unable to do as the result of a fracture for which he treated me; notwithstanding i do other exercise for at least 60 minutes daily.
i was rewarded with an excellent reference from a medical online forum and reassurance i should push my GP for a specialist consult.

Sent by rick davis | 2:26 PM | 12-13-2007

I have Type I Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a very rare condition.
It's estimated 20,000 - 50,000 in the US have OI.
I live in a small community and am frustrated that the doctors here don't know much about my condition.
I've found the OI Foundation's web site,, invaluable. It gives me all kinds of assitance and suggestions about talking with my physicians about my condition.

Sent by Joan | 2:27 PM | 12-13-2007

As a general practice veterinarian, I welcomed the questions and comments my clients would bring to the exam room. As their pets are unable to act as their own advocate, the informed owner has the potential to pose questions that may otherwise go unaddressed. Having said that, the practitioner should expect a mix of misinformation and worthwhile alternatives. All of which should be welcomed as an opportunity to educate the client regarding their pet's (or their own in the case of the physician) condition.
As an aside, nurses were my worst clients hands down (save a few exceptions). They would often apply their knowledge about human biology and medicine to the pet despite the numerous and significant differences among species with potentially devastating results as many were inclined to treat at home.

Sent by Robert | 2:28 PM | 12-13-2007

I am an obstetrics nurse and I would encourage every pregnant woman to use the internet in researching pregnancy and labor. So many women are subject to "standard" procedures and inductions and scheduled cesareans for the convenience of the doctor. Anything that opens dialogue and empowers patients to make decisions for themselves is to their benefit.

Sent by Courtney Gustin | 2:28 PM | 12-13-2007

We use the internet for one simple reason... we don't trust most doctors advice. So many times we have been thrown a pill only to return to the doctor as things are not better or even worse. Also since having a baby we have found that information from other parents (from interent blogs) have been much more useful than our doctors advice. Now days we always go to the internet before going to the doctor!

Sent by Kathy Razumkin | 2:34 PM | 12-13-2007

The Internet proved to be indispensable for me. I was diagnosed with a disease that is fairly rare. I knew nothing about avascular necrosis whatsoever. One of the things I did was use the web to start a very intensive and ongoing investigation and research into the condition. What I think is important, though, is that the quality of the information has to be well-verified---and this is where information literacy, particularly of the digital kind, needs to be at the heart of the discussion. This applies to all information (legal, educational, etc.). I am extremely fortunate in that I am a student at a university, and therefore also have access to medical research databases that are much harder, if not impossible, to get hold of by the public at large. It made me really come to understand that it's not just about access per se, it's about what kinds of information are truly available to a person. Last point: I also found support networks---and that proved to be extremely important. When you are diagnosed with something rare, you can feel very isolated, confused and of course, terrified. The Internet can really help with things that are important parts of care that are not purely diagnostic and rehabilitative.

Sent by T. Peace | 2:36 PM | 12-13-2007

The Internet can be an incredibly useful resource for information and support. But the question of the reliability of the information is still critical. One often overlooked solution is accessing informtion through your local public library, rather than going straight to Google.
Many library websites have lists of links that are periodically reviewed and categorized. In addition, many libraries provide access to high quality paid databases that cannot be accessed by way of Google or Yahoo. Here in Pennsylvania for example, the state library provides access to the EbscoHost database that includes several databases of medical information - including professional journals and pharmacological information. Using your library card, you can get literally the most current information and research. Once you have that backgorund of reliable information, you can then google with some confidence. A PA Librarian

Sent by Nancy Hallowell | 2:51 PM | 12-13-2007

The orthopedist was very arrogant. Doctors do not know everything and I am not going give my unconditional respect to someone purely because they have an MD after their name. Being an educated "consumer" of medical care is so important. Doctors are not always up to date on the most current info and I certainly want to make an educated decision about my medical care and the care of my children. I also teach pre and post natal fitnes and have found that MANY OB/GYN's are not up to date on the current ACOG recomendations about exercising while pregnant and it makes me wonder what else they are not up to date on. You can bet I am going to do my own research and then discuss it with my physician.

Sent by Sweetlea | 3:08 PM | 12-13-2007

The internet is a wonderful resource at your fingertips and provides a wealth of information. I recently used the internet to comparison shop for prices for specific routine health care services (MRIs, and x-rays), to better understand what these services would cost me and to learn where I should go to get the best value. Unfortunately, price information is one of the biggest kept secrets in health care. True prices are just not available. I'm hoping to change this and lift the veil of secrecy with a grassroots initiative to expose true prices using consumer collaboration. One of these days shopping for health care services will be just like shopping for electronics, or cars or any other consumer good.

Sent by Mona Lori | 4:55 PM | 12-13-2007

Did the orthopedist interviewed really say that nurses are his favourite patients because of their respect for physicians? I nursed in acute care facilities for ten years before changing professions and all the nurses knew the foibles and problems with every physician: which one went a "little whacky" when he stopped his Prozac, the surgeon who liked to throw things at the staff in surgery and the orthopedist with rampant paranoia. A lot of physicians have a set script and the patient that deviates from that script is almost immediately dismissed as a "difficult" patient. Accessing personal information on a physician, other than their medical and possibly criminal history, is inappropriate, but physicians have long been granted a god-like status. I think the Web is chanllenging this belief and is often a source for good information.

Sent by JKB | 9:36 AM | 12-14-2007

I absolutely check the web for information and it's a good thing I do. I'm not a baby boomer (younger) though. I was recently prescribed prometrium during a (sadly failed) pregnancy. I discovered that prometrium and I do NOT mix. It was actually dangerous for me. My doctor was not only dismissive, but told me you cannot get depressive symptoms (severe) from prometrium. I looked it up on the web and on the prometrium website and discovered it IS in fact a danger. I tried to present this to her respectfully at first, but when she became defensive and rude I printed it out and left it with her. I wish more doctors would respect their patients and actually listen when they are given information that falls outside their knowldedge.

Sent by Jyllian | 9:47 AM | 12-14-2007

I worry about the influence that drug companies have over the web. A patient may enter some symptoms they are having into a search engine and be directed to a drug company's site. Not only are the patient's now convinced that they need this medication, but they may also read about other symptoms and hypochondria may ensue, affecting a potential diagnosis by their doctor.

Sent by Jessica Vierela | 9:51 AM | 12-14-2007

Some years ago, when I worked at a different company, our insurance provide GAVE each employee a book "Your Home Healthcare Guide" (or something like that).
It explained most of the common ailments/injuries one would likely encounter and when to seek treatment. I still have it! I use it instead of the computer, the batteries (in a book) never wear-out.
Although, I feel "Web M.D." (and the like) are great for researching your options and learning more about your long-term condition(s). The internet has become nothing more than another advertising driven media outlet. Which is O.K. (if your in the mood to buy advice, drugs, procedures, ....etc.) that you KNOW you need. There is a reason your pharmacy won't accept YOUR "word for it" when you go to buy antibiotics for your cold.
Selfdiagnosis can be fatal!

Sent by Harold | 10:57 AM | 12-14-2007

When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer 9 years ago (not sure if Google was around then) I was desperate to find treatments that were promising and statistics and information that I could use to help put my mother and me more at ease. Her doctor was so patronizing and gave us so little information; my nightly searches were therapeutic for me as I searched for news I could give her that was hopeful.
However, when I approached the doctor with any new medications or therapies (Herceptin was just making it's debut then) he said he didn't know what I was talking about and acted offended that I did the research, that I doubted his expertise.
When I heard the Dr. Haig his tone of voice and his attitude suddenly put me in mind of my mother's doctor, and I couldn't listen anymore. It's probably more of a reflection on his personality than the consensus of all doctors that a patient should take their physician's advice as gospel. But listening to him reminded me of my mother sitting on the examining table waiting for some good word from a man who only viewed her as another statistic. I can only imagine how frightened and overwhelmed she must have felt dealing with the jargon and the horrendous treatment she had to endure.
I believe patients should arm themselves with information to help prepare themselves for treatment and fill in gaps in information they receive in an overburdened medical environment.

Sent by Teresa | 12:33 PM | 12-14-2007

In July I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that has spread to the brain. The internet has been invaluable in helping me understand and prepare for procedures planned and possible therapies that have been proven effective on my type of cancer. The more knowledgable I become, the more the doctors and I interact. I'm not a passive recipient but an active member in trying to extend my life.

Sent by Linda | 2:12 PM | 12-14-2007

I think the internet can bring patient activists closer to the research that really matters to them... sites like CureHunter and RevolutionHealth and Wikipedia can help fight information-overload for both patients and doctors alike.

Anything that gets doctors and patients closer to scientific research is good in my opinion.

Sent by Anthony | 4:44 AM | 12-15-2007

I have a cerebral arteriovenous malformation (AVM), first diagnosed some five years ago. I found the web to be useful in learning the medical vocabulary, in understanding the possible therapies, and in grasping my risk for hemorrhage and/or seizure. This was helpful in dealing with the medical world. Like charity, patient advocacy begins at home.

However, when interpreting information obtained from the Internet, consider both source and publication date. If you don't know the source and age of the information, you don't know its' quality either.

Remember, the Web is a big bathroom wall, and everyone has a marker.

Sent by David | 1:28 PM | 12-15-2007

God forbid that "lay people" be informed! I take offense to the attitude that the majority of patients do not have the intellectual capacity to assess medical information on the web. Why are some of our doctors so uncomfortable with being challenged and questioned? No, I do not have more respect for doctors than any other individual in our society. I believe that one of the major problems in Western medicine today is the practitioner's expectation that the patient will have blind faith. Western medicine has a formidable history, particularly among certain populations such as women and people of color. Consider the Tuskegee "study" of untreated men with syphilis, consider the advent of birth control and the outrageous doses that were given to women in South America! Is anyone truly surprised that there is a certain amount of distrust for doctors? History has shown that this mistrust is sometimes well placed!

Sent by Jill McCullough | 9:57 AM | 12-16-2007

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