Getting medical information from the Internet
Like all doctors these days, many of my patients’ families search the internet for medical information. Often the day after I’ve had a long discussion with a family they return with fresh questions they’ve obtained overnight from Dr. Google. Some of you reading this right now are likely doing that very thing. There’s an excellent recent discussion here about this brave new medical information age, what it means to doctors and patients.
For myself, I am always pleased when families do this. It provides an excellent starting point for continuing discussions about their child. It helps me a great deal in my communication with families. This is often because, even though I explain what I think is important, I not infrequently misjudge what parents really are wondering about. In addition, some parents are a bit inhibited (or intimidated) in discussions with doctors — an Internet search helps them formulate their questions based upon what they really want to know, and I can more easily give them that.
I think doctors should embrace this newest wrinkle in the doctor-patient relationship. For one thing, it’s a very useful conversation opener. I often ask parents if they’ve been looking for online information, if there’s anything I can do to help them find it, and then discuss it with them. For another thing, pointing patients to reliable websites gives them something they can return to in the future for continuing information.
Doctors can serve as a key interpretive filter for patients and families because, of course, the medical information on the Internet, though open to all, is not infrequently wrong. Or, if not wrong, it is not really applicable to my patient’s situation. And somebody’s blog rant should not be weighed equally against information found on a respected site.
There are many useful sites for parents seeking this kind of information, but here are a few I think are good. Properly used, the Internet empowers patients and parents; improperly used, it can confuse and frighten them. Either way, doctors shouldn’t ignore it. Our patients are using it all the time, so it is best for all if we help them do that in the best possible way.