Doctor Google – a valuable source of information or worrying minefield?

 

By Mr Michael Jenkins

Chair of the Circulation Foundation
BSc MS FRCS (Gen Surg) FEBVC Consultant Vascular Surgeon Director AAA Screening NW London

Access to medical information has never been easier, but some of this should come with a health warning of its own. Using Google to look for headache relief and landing on the brain tumour page is not particularly useful to anyone.
 
However, we have to accept that for anyone with a new diagnosis or new symptoms the temptation to look it up is overwhelming. So where to start? As a guide, there are some websites that have been endorsed either by government agencies or the relevant specialist society where the information and evidence has been “rubber stamped” by experts in the field. The big charities associated with common conditions (heart disease, diabetes, cancer) also have reliable information backed up by contemporary data and up-to-date management advice. Your local hospital may also have advice on its website which is generally of good quality, but variable in its breadth and detail. Large American hospitals tend to have more information (primarily designed to attract US patients to their services), and the quality of information is invariably reliable, but not always relevant for a UK readership.
 
So, what should you avoid? This is the difficult one as there is no CE mark of approval here. Although some clinicians have excellent information on personal sites, others don’t and in general terms, those working in the private sector have websites primarily for advertising purposes and patient information is secondary. They may also want to preferentially focus on a technique or procedure they champion so the information may have inherent bias. I would also be aware that certain blogs and fora, although useful as they are patient-focused and create a “community feel” of like-minded people, can cause anxiety as some people’s experiences are worse than others. Many conditions can have mild or serious forms so be aware that some of the stories you read may not relevant to your own condition. Treatment indications and options also differ and what may be appropriate for one person, may not be for another.
 
It is a good idea to sense check the information you find with your GP or specialist. If nothing else, an internet search before an appointment can at least familiarise you with the basics of the condition, the terms and potential questions to ask your Doctor. 
 
This article was posted by: louise.collins

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