Friday, January 25, 2008

Searching the Internet on your own can Cause Serious Problems

The US Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI) recently released a report documenting that patients who search the internet on their own, looking for answers to health questions can make medical decisions that are potentially dangerous to their health. They note in their report that some patients have replaced their trusted physician with "google" or other search engines, but note that the medical information they find there always appears to be authoritative and accurate, but often isn't. They note examples of lawyers posing as medical experts, plaintiff firms searching for people willing to testify in lawsuits, and many groups or individuals selling alternative medical products of various sorts.

The authors further note that 65% of the first three pages of search results came from sites that were biased or contained unverified information. Nearly half of the first three pages of search results belonged to lawyers and attorney referral services seeking plaintiffs for class action law suits. Finally, they noted that no official regulatory pages or professional medical organizations appeared in the inventory of results.They note that persons who use the internet to obtain health information will find little that is reliable upon which they can depend and, worse, can get confusing, contradictory or dangerous advice or suggestions.

We have frequently noted on this site that we believe that the best model (other than working directly with your own personal physician) is to have a trusted physician who can either refer internet based information to you that relates to your particular issue, or send a site that you have found to a physician to review and verify its validity.At eDoc, the physicians almost always search the net and attach one or more relevant web sites to expand or illustrate our answers and comments. This provides patients with the best of both worlds: direct interaction with a trusted physician AND reliable, verified information from the vast resources of the internet.

Have you had frustrating experiences conducting your own searches? If so, I'd like to hear from you!

1 comment:

Anne said...

The internet literally saved my life. I felt as though I was dying. My health was deteriorating. I was told by one doctor "You are old, what do you expect?" I was only 60. Two doctors offered me antidepressents and medication to cover up pain. Not being satisfied with those choices, I used Google to help me find better answers.

I found the answers to my health problems. That was almost 5 years ago. I have my health back. In fact, I feel better than any other time in my life.

I would argue with the statement "They note that persons who use the internet to obtain health information will find little that is reliable..." With the internet I can search PubMed, eMedicine, Medscape and use Google Scholar. I am able to talk with people who have similar problems - there is an amazing amount of collective wisdom in the lay community. I can write authors of papers published in journals(yes, they do answer).

An example of Google, if I search for "nausea vomiting" the first few sites that come up are The Cleveland Clinic, Mayo, Medline Plus and eMedicine. Looks good to me.

I think some doctors feel very threatened by patients who learn about their health problems. That is sad. I believe a patient who is willing to learn, is one who is more willing to change lifestyle and do what is needed to optimize health. The patient can then become part of the care team.