BEFORE ASKING DR. GOOGLE AGAIN, think of these 4 things

Causes of chest pain, diarrhea, and fainting.  Examples of treatments for sore throat.  Side effects of medications.  The list is endless.  If you are like most people I encounter, you may feel quite armed with the medical information on the internet.  You may feel like you have an idea about most things, you know what can cause some symptoms, and some things to do for a number of health problems.  Right???


Let me start by saying that each human being, every situation, and every point in time are all unique.  Diabetes can look a hundred different ways and be managed a hundred different ways.  Breast cancer is a hundred different diseases.  If you read the side effect profile of tylenol (acetaminophen = a pain killer) and learn that people die from overdose of this medication, you might hesitate before you open your medicine cabinet to take a tablet (or two) for a headache tonight.

This is why everyone should approach their doctor for a bothersome health concern.  Dr. Google IS NOT, and SHOULD NEVER be a substitute for medical care by a trained and licensed physician. 

Still, sometimes one may need to look something up, to understand better or to get more information.  The internet really is a good thing and can be helpful at such times, as long as one pays attention to 3 points.

#1. Be careful with non-medical authors and chat forums.  How many times have you received service from a hotel, or store, or restaurant, and received yet another survey?  How many have you completed and sent back?  I bet you, that you’ve completed more where you had something really great (or really bad) to say, right?  This is why I always advice caution with blogs and other forums where the non-medical public discusses health issues.  Consider that you may not be hearing from the larger average population but rather, you might be focusing on the experience of the outliers.  Also, if you want information about chicken breeding, I suspect you would want to check poultry farm websites rather than an IT website.  The expertise does matter.

#2. Know the dependable sites.  You can always be sure that information on is evidence-based and real-life helpful information about cancer, blood disorders, and other chronic diseases.  You can be confident because you can determine that I am a practicing physician, and can review my credentials and training information on the internet.  You can read some of my peer-reviewed medical/scientific publications on, administered by the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.  Similarly, it makes sense to verify the background of the author, whenever you are reading medical information on the internet.  Because of sheer size and reputation, you can be sure that information posted by large health institutions are reliable and accurate.  Some examples include the Mayo Clinic and National Institutes of health.  University (.edu) and government (.gov) websites are also reliable.

#3. Remember that geography does matter.  A streptococcal sore throat is the same no matter where you go, but antibiotics may be named differently.  In some complex areas like cancer care, the treatment approach can vary quite a bit from place to place.  It makes sense to seek out reputable authors practicing in your particular part of the world first, before looking elsewhere.

#4. General information is more useful.  Because every person and situation are different, it is unwise to expect that every complication listed may apply to you, or that your case will go a certain way exactly.  It is probably more beneficial to read about the different types of breast cancer, like ER/PR positive and HER2 positive, rather than expecting that you will get TCH chemotherapy necessarily just because you have HER2 positive breast cancer and someone else on some forum got the same.

Question: Have you found online medical information useful?  What challenges have you encountered?  Feel free to leave a comment below.  

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Author of "Self navigate for health" available as eBook on Amazon and paperback on Lulu. Hematology-oncology physician writing about medical self-advocacy or "self-navigation", cancer, blood disorders, and books

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