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Googling Symptoms

Posted by Elliot Franz | Posted on April 13, 2015

    The Internet is great. There is so much information out there, you can learn about anything without leaving the confines of your comfy chair. Some of the information people look up while they are online includes medical conditions. There are many great websites that allow people to learn more about medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and eye conditions (just to name a few).

    Of course, not every website is backed by a reputable organization. Not every fact stated online has been tested by scientific research. That’s the bad part of the Internet. Since barriers to entry are low, anyone can put anything online and have a potential audience of millions. Your patients may even come to your office already having been self-diagnosed or begin to tell you how to treat them!

    So, where does this leave the eye care professional? Do you just dismiss it when a patient brings you information from the web about exercises that can “cure” nearsightedness? Conversely, do you just listen and nod your head when a patient goes on and on about something he or she found online that can reverse glaucoma?

    The Internet is a big part of our lives, so it cannot be ignored. Still, there are things you can do to counter the pull of questionable medical information found by your patients online.

Ask where the patient received the information

    If the patient received the information from a university or a government website, then continue the conversation. If not, bring to their attention that the source may not be credible. Ask about the patient’s symptoms and why the patient thinks this information relates to him or her. It is possible that the patient found out something beneficial. Then again, if the information is just a blog entry about how some guy lived on wheatgrass juice for a year and improved his overall health, it is necessary to remind the patient that you can’t believe everything you read. Especially if the sample size is n = 1 blogger. Which leads to…

YOU are the doctor

    YOU went to medical school, not the patient. Therefore YOU need to be the one that says, “Let’s examine this further.” Even information from a reliable source doesn’t always fit the particular situation of the patient. That’s another reason to take the time to educate the patient. While it is good that the patient took the initiative to learn more about his or her condition, it is easy for a patient to come to the wrong conclusion. That leads to…

Let the Internet be part of conversation

    A study done by the British Journal of General Practice showed that people who researched their medical conditions online wanted to make the most of the relationship with their doctor and that they trusted their doctor’s insights. They weren’t out to stump the doctor, rather they wanted to work with their doctor to maintain good health. That’s good for business!

    The Internet is more than just celebrity gossip, cat videos, and social media sites. Medical information is widely available online, and certain websites can be used as a tool to maximize good health. So take some time to encourage your patients to browse wisely!

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