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La Prensa: Getting Medical Advice from the Internet: Dr. Google?

by Maria Palafox, MD

Every doctor in San Antonio knows this: many patients use the Internet to get medical information. We realize that patients look for information about us and our background and what other people think about us; they also consult the Internet when looking to find information about symptoms or problems they may be having. There is a lot of good information out there, but there is also a lot of misleading information.

CBS News reported last year that more than one third of US adults use the Internet to diagnose medical conditions. Of the people who said they went online to help find out what

they or someone else was suffering from, 46 percent said what they found online led them to believe they needed help from a medical professional. Another 38 percent said they thought they could treat it at home. Of the people that ended up going to the doctor, only 41 percent said that a doctor agreed with the diagnosis that was made from the online research—another 18 percent said the doctor had a different opinion about their condition.

Let’s face it: it can be a hassle to go to the doctor—taking time off work or school, finding some one to watch the kids or pick them up while you are in the waiting room, and we have not even talked about what it costs, even if you have insurance. There are many good sources of information for patients on the Internet. The information you find may be the deciding factor for spending the time and money to go to the doctor. It can be helpful to get information so that you know what questions to ask your doctor, and that information can add to what your doctor tells you so that you can understand what is going on. I don’t agree with using the Internet to diagnose yourself, however.

Frankly, my concern for patients is that they are going to diagnose themselves incorrectly or incompletely. Heck, doctors have a hard time figuring out what’s going on with a patient sometimes, and we went to medical school! I do not mind the patient that looks up elbow pain

and decides that they have colon cancer and they come see me. The patient and I can work through symptoms and the right testing to figure out if they really have colon cancer. What I worry about is the patient that has lower chest pain after eating a burger for the last year but thanks to the Internet has diagnosed themselves with indigestion, so they do not see the doctor. Is it chest pain coming from their heart, or is it a gallbladder attack? Or is it indigestion?

The bottom line is this: you don’t have to run to the doctor for everything. A lot of symptoms go away and you are ok. If a nagging symptom is not going away, or is getting worse, then you probably need to come see us. In general, if you think you might need to see the doctor, then you probably need to see the doctor. Be careful about relying on the Internet instead of an actual doctor with experience to talk to you and examine you to figure out what is going on with your health. And finish the entire course of antibiotics!

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