Dr. Google

February 19, 2008

There’s been a little back and forth going on the internet about the evils/benefits of patients who Google. Let’s face it, if you have access to the internet and you or a loved one have an ailment chances are – you’re probably going to use the vast resources available to you on the internet to educate yourself. When you use Google alone it can be hard to distinguish good science from bad.

There are tools that you can use to search for reliable information including WebMD (a company with a local presence, by the way), University Hospital Sites such as Johns Hopkins (our own Emory points you to Medline Plus), the National Institute of Health’s Medline (included in MedlinePlus searches) and there is a new site called Organized Wisdom which purportedly has health professionals screen their links to health information sites. The information appears to be well organized and referenced.

A quick search for Alzheimers points to articles by MedLine Plus, Health Central, American Alzheimers Assoc., The National Institute on Aging, and the American Health Assistance to name the first batch. There are, however, Google ads on the search pages with dubious seeming links that might be distracting.

Patients need to be very discriminating about the kind of information they allow themselves to absorb from the internet. Anecdotal evidence can be extremely emotionally persuading to a patient who feels vulnerable and very, very misleading. This is usually found either on discussion boards or compiled by partisan organizations. It is this kind of evidence that has threatened vaccine initiatives and compromises everyone’s health. No wonder doctors are so skeptical about their patients bringing in stuff from Dr. Google.

Despite many physicians’ wish to stick their heads in the sand until this internet fad passes, patients will continue to search and try to educate themselves, and they should, but with caution and discrimination. And if doctors don’t want their patients glomming onto dubious anecdotal research then they need to be willing to point their patients in the right direction. The time needed to invest in patient education strategies can be recouped in both patient retention and by having to spend less time battling erroneous information.

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