Every day I care for patients with galvanized ideas about how best to manage their health as a result of consulting with Dr. Google. Sometimes their ideas indicate they’ve completely misunderstood what they’ve read, are comical, and maybe even dangerous but I do my best to listen out of respect for their efforts. However, I will admit that as soon as I hear: I read on the Internet or The Internet said I groan imperceptibly and brace myself for a possible battle of wills.
The Internet has emboldened patients to question medical advice and this can be a positive thing. But, the rubber meets the road when patients forget what defines good medical practice; accurate interpretation of scientific information mixed with experience, compassion, and intuition. Further, until such time that Dr. Google can actually examine you through SKYPE or Face-Time, the findings of a physical exam, which is critical in diagnosing and treating any ailment, will always be missing. And last but not least, Dr. Google cannot ask you important and clarifying questions. A perfect example of this in my work occurs when a woman calls to report painful urination which she believes is from a bladder infection and for which she’s requesting an antibiotic. I have a strict policy of not prescribing medications over the phone. Also, if a prescription might be involved I need more information to be certain about what’s happening. So, whenever painful urination is someone’s chief complaint I also ask: BTW – do you have a new boyfriend? And, did you have intercourse several times this past week? A pregnant pause followed by audible twittering adds Vaginal Friction Burn to my list of possible problems.
Athletic and enthusiastic intercourse might cause a bladder infection, but it always causes some degree of genital abrasions which burn like Hell when urine splashes on them – hence, painful urination. My prescription in such cases is to bench the Sex Olympian for 3-4 days, let the tissue heal and then hand her some good personal lube and send her back to center court. No antibiotic needed.
Despite my 25 years in practice, there are always things I come across in patient care that I don’t know how to treat and that require research on my part. But at least my patients can talk with me about how best to solve their problems. Why bring a consultant into the room you’ve never met, you can’t have a conversation with, and who won’t help you think things through? This is exactly who Dr. Google is.
Next time you need medical advice, voice your chief complaint to Dr. Google and see what he has to say. But in the meantime, I encourage you to find a living, breathing health care provider you can trust. And, keep an open mind, just in case they tell you something different than Dr. Google does.