As 2020 slowly moves to an end, out of the 7.75 billion population of the world, Internet is accessible to more than 4.54 billion people worldwide. More than half of internet users gather information from Google, anecdotally known as ‘Dr Google’, especially to gather health-related information during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It’s difficult to imagine our world now without Google and the Internet. It’s also true to think that most doctors alive right now (non-millennials) received the bulk of their education without internet and they prospered much better than those of now from the internet era. The Internet has exploded and penetrated every facet of our lives and people are getting benefitted because of the content that’s available, the best example being Covid-19 safety tips and measures that have reached billions of homes.
And while we all know there are many drawbacks of our current addiction to the online world, it’s difficult for anyone to say that it hasn’t been a net positive or net negative to society.
One of the most important ways we are now using the internet is to make informed health choices and read up around our illnesses and its symptoms and sometimes to learn how to cure ourselves with
out even visiting a doctor. Dr Minhajzafar Nasirabadi, a reputed psychiatrist, feels self-treatment on the basis of Google searches could lead to unnecessary suspiciousness on the doctor that leads to an increase in investigations, delay in treatment, and increased cost of treatment. He also refers to Cyberchondria, a person’s anxiety about their health that is created or exacerbated by using the internet to search for medical information.
Few Buzzwords/ Satire’s
Unfortunately, Google and the internet seem to be a big headache for professionals in the medical and pharmacy profession. A very popular online buzzword / satire that’s been circulating in the recent past by frustrated doctors and pharmacist has been are … “Don’t confuse your Google search with my medical degree” and “Medicine is learned at medical schools for over a period of 10 years and Not on Google in 10 minutes”.
Annoyed and suspicion
We have seen many doctors who get annoyed, intimidated, or frustrated by patients and families who Google search and ask them so many questions, that doctors should take a look at their belief system. Dr Ireni Raja Kiran Kumar Goud, a reputed plastic surgeon says, “We welcome questions and challenges and see this as a natural part of being a professional. But there will always be the odd annoying person within our friend circle that may take things too far, but these are the exception and not the rule.”
Dr Goud actually loves the fact that patients and families should be well informed and read up around their condition. He says he, had he been dealing with an Individual (Millennial), wouldn’t ask any questions leading to debate – for example instead of asking how your fever is, he would prefer to ask the patient, how you are feeling about your fever. Many times millennial patients come to a conclusion of a particular diagnosis and start using medicines and this will lead to masking of the real problem and adding fuel to the fire is the side effects for unprescribed medicines used.
What doctors can do
It’s a fact accepted by most doctors that online searches for health information makes patients more anxious which may influence the consultation in a negative way. Firstly doctors should together do a broader differential diagnosis. Secondly, doctors should respond to the patient’s ideas, concerns, and expectations and patients will hesitate less to ask for specific diagnostic tests.
Millennial patients who use Google or other internet sites to try and research their conditions, get basic information for an informed discussion. There are two limitations to be considered. First, the internet is filled with both accurate and inaccurate information, and the millennials are not properly equipped to separate good v/s bad information. Secondly, Google search does not make someone an expert and doesn’t qualify them to direct or manage an acutely ill patient.
At the same, we shouldn’t imagine going back to a world where the doctor’s opinion was absolute, and there should be a little option as an alternate left for the millennials. Instead of saying “Don’t use Google, listen to me, I’m the trained doctor”, what about the doctor offering valid sites that could help them understand? It might take little time and efforts but benefits both physician and the patient/family.
Stay Tuned to Cyber Talk Column for more about “Internet Ethics and Digital Wellness” brought to you by Anil Rachamalla, End Now Foundation, www.endnowfoundation.org