Dr. Google: This Doctor On How To Treat An IDIOT

Sounds arrogant? It isn’t so. IDIOTs are not what you think. Read ahead…

Do you have the habit of googling for symptoms that you vaguely seem to have?

Do you search the net for information on medicines your doctor has prescribed?

Do you blindly stop the treatment after worrying about certain side effects mentioned on websites?

Do you self-diagnose based on online information and get medication on your own?

If yes, you may be suffering from cyberchondria, which is a growing global medical concern.

Cyberchondria, which is also called IDIOT (Internet Derived Information Obstruction Treatment) Syndrome, is one of the major challenges that doctors across the globe are facing now.

Are you guilty of doing this? 

In this current era of information explosion, patients especially the tech-savvy ones, tend to google their symptoms online and read varied articles about it, end up getting enlightened, anxious, confused and sometimes even frightened.

Googling for medical information has become common now. It can either complement or obstruct the treatment. The former, leading to an intelligent discussion with the doctor, is a healthy practice. The latter will hinder the treatment and is called “cyberchondria or the IDIOT.”

Also read: Here’s who this doctor is thankful to

With the abundant information available on the internet, patients started doing a thorough end-run of traditional medical sources and started searching for answers to their health-related questions in the web world. And when they found a mixed bag of inf, ranging from cutting-edge study data to sceptical ads that claimed a miracle cure. And they started buying it.

Trusting their doctors, sure they did. But they confessed that the internet was their ‘first source’ of information and confirmation. Blame it on its convenience and abundance, it is here to stay! Dr. Google is foraying into the medical field as an evident middleman between the patient and the doctor.

Belgian study findings:

According to a Belgian study, 56% Belgians rely on the internet to search for health-related terms and topics. It states that among those who search the internet for information about illness and health are mainly young, female, and highly educated. However, two-thirds of people find this information unreliable and one-third report confusion after the search.

Image result for dr google

What do people search for?

  • People search for info on diseases, symptoms, and treatments.
  • They are also on the lookout for general health information.
  • One-fifth of the respondents admitted to looking up info to facilitate communication with their doctor and also seek information for their kith and kin.

Where do they search for this info?

  • Websites of support groups
  • Hospital websites
  • Patient blogs
  • Websites created by editors of popular media
  • Websites of paramedical organisations and health professionals.

Almost half of all responders usually went to the doctor after the online information search, but two-thirds were not reassured by the internet search. More than half of responders had more confidence in their GP after searching online. The older the responders, the more they went to the doctor after their internet search and the younger the responders, the more they were worried. The more frequently people consulted the internet for specific complaints, the more likely they reported reassurance.

dr Google

Pic courtesy: google.com/ Illustration by David Cutler

The response from doctors:

Few doctors, especially the senior ones are not very comfortable with patients who ‘Google’. When questioned about how they deal with this phenomenon, some doctors indicated that they feel that their professional expertise had been disregarded. Therefore, doctors tend to ignore or contradict the e-information patients bring to the consultation. Moreover, in academic and professional networks, there is a tendency to discourage patients to search for online health-related information.

What can be done?

As doctors, we cannot ask people to abstain from the internet as it is helpful in many ways. It even helps doctors. What we can do is teach people to use it properly. Our healthcare department should give proper orientation to people. Give them the right information, the right advice and the right direction to seek information, if they want to.

We should develop a culture of using information for better healthcare. All cyber information may not be correct. In that case, always check with an expert. The internet shouldn’t be the final word.

Building a strong ” doctor-patient” bonding is paramount to alleviate their anxiety and improve their trust.

The Belgian study also concluded that the ‘Dr Google’ phenomenon is not seen as a threat by general practitioners, but leads to a better mutual understanding of symptoms and diagnosis.

With internet access growing rapidly, the amount of information will only increase with time. Patients should be wise. Next time, while seeking advice from the internet, don’t be too judgemental. Have a word with your trusted family physician regarding the same and clarify your queries. It always helps to alleviate the anxiety, Dr. Google gives you!

Dr. Srivatsan Gurumurthy

Dr. Srivatsan Gurumurthy

Consultant Surgical Gastroenterologist, Division of minimally invasive, liver transplantation and HPB surgery- Gem Hospital and Research Centre, Chennai, India.