In case any of you have missed this, the web with the help of "Dr. Google" is a major source of medical information for a broad swath of healthcare consumers in the U.S. Whenever I make this point to clinicians, the response from a few is always: Tisk, tisk. What a shame. There is so much bad stuff out there. To which I usually reply: Uhhh, there's also a few bad docs. Informed patients can help to weed them out
Let's just agree on one thing. The process of healthcare consumers seeking medical advice on the web will not go away. The important role of healthcare professionals should be to direct consumers to the best web sites. A recent article in the New York Times addressed some of these issues (see: Logging On for a Second (or Third) Opinion). Below is an excerpt from it:
The intrepid and the adept [have been] going to the Web for health information as long ago as the 1980s, well before Google and other search engines made it accessible to a wider audience....At least three-quarters of all Internet users look for health information online, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project; of those with a high-speed connection, 1 in 9 do health research on a typical day. And 75 percent of online patients with a chronic problem told the researchers that “their last health search affected a decision about how to treat an illness or condition,” according to a Pew Report released last month, “The Engaged E-Patient Population.” ...“Google is the de facto second opinion” for patients seeking further information after a diagnosis.... But paging Dr. Google can lead patients to miss a rich lode of online resources that may not yield to a simple search. Sometimes just adding a word makes all the difference.... But [health-oriented] can be grouped into five broad...categories:
MEDICAL RESEARCH SITES offer access to the published work of scientists, studies and a window into continuing research. Examples include PubMed from the National Library of Medicine; ClinicalTrials.gov, which tracks federally financed studies; psycinfo , with its trove of psychological literature, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the government’s registry on alternative medicine research.
PATIENT SITES for groups and individuals are booming — so much so that they are increasingly used by researchers to find patients for studies. These include the Association of Cancer Online Resources and e-patients, as well as Patients Like Me and Trusera , which provide a bit of Facebook-style social connectivity for patients, along with the ability to share their stories in clinical, data-laden detail.
DISEASE-SPECIFIC SITES focus on a particular condition and are often sponsored by major organizations like the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the American Diabetes Association. But smaller groups can put together extensive resources as well, with sites like breastcancer.org and Diabetes Mine, which calls itself the “all things diabetes blog.”
WEB TOOLS These sites help people manage their conditions — for example, SugarStats for diabetes, Destination Rx for comparing drug prices, and YourDiseaseRisk.com, a service of the Washington University school of medicine that helps patients determine their risk for various problems.