Ten years ago when I was in a group medical practice and patients would bring in reams of paper printed off the Internet, my partner and I would look at each other and we’d roll our eyes.
Killing trees aside, we didn’t attribute our dismay to the patient taking the initiative in learning about her healthcare (that was refreshing!). Rather, there were two other factors we found frustrating in this behavior:
the quality of the information being presented and;
the patient’s preconceived notions (she’d already been “sold” a bill of goods).
However, as the Internet has evolved and the information has become more sophisticated, so has the Internet User.
Now my patients bring me one page printed off the Internet, or better yet, notes they’ve taken and it makes me SMILE! They’ve often sifted through basic information and taken the trouble to learn about their condition so we can have more sophisticated discussion on the possible causes of her symptoms, and the available options for treatment. In other words, she’s DONE HER HOMEWORK! and it makes my job more interesting and satisfying.
Yet in usual cat-and-mouse fashion, as the Internet User has become more sophisticated, so has the unscrupulous Internet Purveyor of Snake Oil.
The problem with Internet medicine was and continues to be commercial interests. Since its inception the Internet has predictably been used by unscrupulous people to sell health care products (weight loss aids, “menopause treatments”, “cures for cancer” and other magic potions) that promise undeliverable results and have no basis in scientific knowledge. In their quest to feel better, patients will often throw common sense out the window and allow a sales pitch seduce them into tossing their money away on an untested product.
In our frantic search for causes and solutions to our problems we have a tendency to latch on to magic wands and easy fixes–“snake oil” that hasn’t undergone the rigors of scientific study.
So How Do You Get the Most from Internet Medicine?
Today’s Internet User is more sophisticated than the User of ten years ago. She’s probably been tripped up a few times by the snake-oil salesmen and has learned to recognize the hard-sell sales pitch of an unscrupulous person or corporation. Yet people still have trouble finding good sources of medical information to answer their questions. Two tips to find the best sources of medical information are:
Just say “NO” to “BUY NOW”
Look for sites with no vested interest in commercial products. The site with that Shiny Red “Buy Now” button is an easy clue the site may just be pitching you a product that has no scientific support. Save your money and click away…just click away from the site! And here’s a well kept secret: THE MOST EFFECTIVE TREATMENTS FOR MANY MEDICAL ILLNESSES ARE FREE!! (e.g. Diet and Exercise).
Some sites I recommend are the NIH.gov and CDC.gov sites. Notice I don’t mention the FDA site in this short list (my rant on the FDA will come in a different post). If you need other sites, check my blogroll from time to time: I’m always on the hunt for quality links for my patients.
“Comparison shop” your “facts”: Try to get information from multiple sources:
Chances are if you find similar information about a condition on multiple non-commercial sites, you’ve uncovered quality facts that have endured the slow machinations of the RADOBLIPCOS.
If you have a health care provider you trust, bring your research in to her to help you put it in the context of your own life. There are many good treatments out there for various medical conditions. However, like stylish clothes, it’s not a “one size fits all”: the best treatment for two individuals with the same medical condition is a specific plan tailored to each individual.
Don’t let the Internet Make You Sick
Just because we have “fatigue” it doesn’t mean we have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Cancer or Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia or Liver Disease. We may just be sleeping poorly and working too much, or perhaps we have small children at home.
Many common physical symptoms are present among hundreds or thousands of diseases and non-disease processes.
Look at other symptom lists for other diseases and notice how often symptom lists overlap. Some symptoms that appear on many different lists are: fatigue, headache, nausea, muscle aches, abdominal pain. These symptoms are so common as to be nearly useless for diagnostic purposes.
If Internet medical sites are making you anxious, write down your questions, make notes on sites you find thought-provoking, and bring them to your health care provider to put them in the context of your life and assess if you need further evaluation or treatment.
Keep Looking and Keep Asking the Questions
Even if you find good treatments, they may not always be available to the public. The most recent and iconic example of this I can think of is the use of mifepristone to treat pain and bleeding from fibroids. Why is a cheap, effective drug to alleviate the most common symptoms women experience not available by prescription?? (As an aside I’m working on buying mifepristone from a Canadian pharmacy (available in 200 mg doses) and having it compounded by a quality compounding pharmacy into 10 mg doses used to treat fibroids so my patients can have access to this solution).
Why isn’t misoprostol easily available in third world countries to treat post-partum bleeding?
Why aren’t generic drugs for HIV widely disseminated in the populations who need it most: South Africa?
The only way these options will become available to people in the future is for the public to demand reliable information and access. How to do this? Start by Emailing your federal and state political representatives. …. 🙂 Happy Surfing.
Share Your Experience
What are your ideas for obtaining access to reliable information and treatments?
What has your experience been with Internet Medicine? Please share the good, along with the bad and the ugly.
What are the best sources for Internet Medicine you’ve found?