Consulting Dr. Google

Last week I attended a potluck.  As we were eating, right in the middle of a nice conversation, one guy took a call on his cell phone.  His end of the conversation sounded something like, “What?  That’s all they think it is?  Well, go back in there and tell them you want a CT scan.  No, it’s important.  You need a CT scan.”

I’ve heard of this phenomenon, but this was the first time I’d seen it.  I shook my head in disbelief and said, “No.  Do not tell doctors what tests to order.  If you visit them for their expertise, then listen to them.”

I somehow had the idea that it was the alcoholic/welfare-dependent/ER-abusing/psycho dregs of society that were stupid enough to do that.  To hear an employed, seemingly sane person advocate that someone should demand an expensive medical procedure (one that is not without risks) was…  beyond belief.

It turns out that this guy decided, based on something he read on the internet, that a CT scan was appropriate for his friend.  The internet is a great resource.  There’s a lot of good information available.  There’s a lot of garbage out there, too.  Consulting with Dr. Google can provide just enough information to be dangerous.

The key is to filter out the junk.  It doesn’t make much sense to use a general search engine for reliable medical information.  Whether you like google, dogpile, askjeeves, or something else for general inquiries, doesn’t it makes sense to go straight to medical resources for medical information?  I used to use WebMD, but a doctor pointed out some errors there, so I’ve gone elsewhere.  Family Doctor, Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, and Up to Date are all reliable resources.  Some doctors have started posting short, educational videos on YouTube.

Doctor D’s latest post addresses this very phenomenon.  Apparently people read things on the internet, then see their doctors and demand unneeded tests.  Insurance companies don’t like paying for all those tests, so they raise your premium to make up the difference.  People pay a higher premium, plus their portion of the fee for the unnecessary tests.  Everyone’s health costs go up when this happens.  Go visit Doctor D’s blog and click on the video he shared.

His closing question asks,

So what do you think? Does being an educated, web-savvy patient make you
cost the system more? Do you think reading Medblogs make your
healthcare cost more or less?

I tried to post a short response over there, but blogger kept eating my comments.  Four tries yesterday and one today.  The screen flashes, and my comment disappears.  I’ll just respond here.

I doubt that I count as web-savvy, but my vote is less.  Definitely less.

One example:  my PCP listed a few possible diagnoses and said that I could get an x-ray to find out which it was.  Based on what I’ve read on medblogs, I was able to ask, “What would be the difference in how this is treated?”  None at all.  My goal is not a specific label; my goal is to heal.  If the only thing that will help is giving it more time, then x-rays really aren’t necessary.  Test avoided, money saved.

I’ve learned a ton from medblogs.   Maybe someday I’ll make a list.  Getting the perspective of doctors is incredibly helpful. 

If people are demanding tests that they don’t need, then they don’t really count as educated patients.  More like half-educated.  Obviously they didn’t get enough information from Dr. Google.  Medblogs can help fill in the missing information.