Doctor Google

Perhaps I’ve reading into things, but this article on the BBC web site alarmed me just a little bit.

Some UK researchers looked up child health related topics on the Internet and then vetted their findings. If the story were that not everything you see on the Internet should be believed, I would buy that. However, I question whether the point of the piece is to tell people that the only credible source of medical information comes from the government, with statements like, “Government-run sites were the only completely reliable source, they found” and “In total, 11% of the 500 results gave inaccurate information, and 39% gave the right answer.”

I can see why doctors might be concerned that people are relying solely on Google for medical diagnosis, and rightfully so. But while they have a point that not all information found online can be considered credible, I am hoping this is not a push towards censorship. 

When I search for information on a problem, I want to see the alternative viewpoints. I like to see the CAM techniques for solving a problem, as well as the allopathic options. It’s useful for me to know that a doctor would recommend antibiotics for a UTI, but also that some would have you cure it with cranberry.

In addition, several of the topics they looked up are controversial. Even within the mainstream medical community, there is no one single answer or diagnosis.  For example, we don’t know what causes autism. That’s a fact right now. There is no medical conclusion as to why it happens. So how can they say the government has the only credible advice on that topic?

This brings me back to something I touched on in a previous piece. Isn’t it a cornerstone of science that we are always testing new theories, trying to find the answers for why something is the way it is? Then why is it that the medical community and the government insists that theirs is the one and only correct viewpoint? Why aren’t we welcoming additional theories into the fold and investigating those to in order to see if they have merit? Much easier to dismiss something out of hand I suppose.

There was one takeaway from the piece that I did appreciate, and it was also highlighted on the web site. “Healthcare professionals should continue to strive to be the main source of information for patients but we should be aware that most will continue to use the internet to gather information.”

While I’m not sure that I’d agree that healthcare professionals should be the ONLY source of information for patients, and I highly advocate being an informed consumer, I do believe that medical staff need to know that many of their patients do and will continue look things up online. Doctors need to be aware of what’s out there and be willing to look at information a patient brings to their attention. Combining knowledge to tackle the problem seems to be a smart solution.