Why Dr. Google Doesn’t Always Have Your Back
Let me start by saying that I love Google. Just yesterday Google taught me how to distress a pair of jeans and fix my dishwasher.
But Google didn’t go to med school.
A few months ago, after spending about half an hour discussing a diagnosis and treatment plan with a patient in my office, she pulled out her phone and Googled it. In my office. With me there.
When did Google become a reputable second opinion? Now don’t get me wrong – there are a lot of really good online resources for high quality medical information (like this blog!), and I’m all for having people learn more so that they can make educated decisions about their health and wellbeing. But there’s also a lot of crap. And it can sometimes be hard to tell what’s what.
One of the most important principles I’ve learned as a doctor is that of shared decision making.
Unlike some of the more paternalistic attitudes that were prevalent in medicine say, 50 years ago, nowadays I think our perspective has changed from seeing ourselves as “healers,” to instead seeing ourselves as “educators.”
I always say to my patients that I’m not there to tell them what to do, but rather to equip them with enough good information so that they can feel comfortable deciding for themselves.
The best part of my day is the time I get to spend answering my patients’ questions. I also recognize that it can be hard to focus or absorb a lot of information when you’re sitting there in front of your doctor, especially if you’ve just been given a diagnosis you don’t understand (or one you do understand and you’re scared of what it might mean). I’m the first person to compile a list of written resources (online or otherwise) so that people can try to learn more after they’ve left my office. Often I print out the same articles or guidelines that I use. And I always encourage a second opinion if my patients are unsure.
The problem is that finding heath information on the internet is like sailing the ocean without a compass.
And the consequences can be significant. No matter how many ads you see about them on your Facebook feed claiming otherwise, goji berries are not going to cure your diabetes. Does that mean you shouldn’t try them? Who am I to say? That’s your call. But it doesn’t mean you don’t have to talk to your doctor about what the conventional wisdom is, about what your fears are about adopting it, and what the consequences might be if you don’t. Dr. Google is great about offering you alternatives – some conventional, some promising, some that your doctor may not have ever heard of – but not so great about answering some of those other questions, particularly if you didn’t know to ask them.
So my advice isn’t to blindly listen to everything your doctor tells you. I actually urge you not to do that. I think knowledge is power, and the last thing you want is to look back ten years from now and wish you had done something differently “if only” you had listened to whoever (your doctor, yourself, your neighbor, that guy on TV…). But use your doctor as a sounding board. As your personal online compass to help you navigate the sea of too much information. Because I promise, unlike Google, your doctor has your back.