It is no wonder that Google has become what it is today, because what took us a week of bickering about and waiting a whole day to go to the library and fact check or call the one friend who reads too much in 1985, takes us five seconds today.
One of Google’s most prominent visitors are those in need for medical information, or in some cases a serious case of medical attention.
There are millions of people every day who Google their symptoms, this fact has been a double edged tool, a curse and a gift for the medical society who has been the primary source of information for not only decades but centuries to the general public.
Why Dr Google is good?
Dr Google has given a sense of power to the general public. Who better knows your symptoms than you? The medical society can have a patronizing view of the role of the patient, where he is not seen as a consumer of a service, a receiver of a knowledge but rather an expense, time consumption and a moment of irritation. And in the case of chronic and rare diseases, the patient is often more educated than the staff caring for him/her. Dr Google is open all day, all night and can always take your call. He can sum up your symptoms, give you several reasons why you have them and provide you with multiple sources. Sources you can use to help your doctor along towards a diagnoses. I have managed to diagnose myself twice and helped my doctor to find a good cure. He saves the primary health centers from an overload of sniffles and common colds.
Why is Dr Google evil?
To be able to handle Dr Google, you have to have a level of literacy within medicine. The information you acquire is not always reliable. What good is it having 10 sources that are unreliable, and conflicting? The information can either bring you closer to a cure, or as often for those having an over belief in it, a step closer to endangering you health. Doctors might be human, but there is a reason why they went to medical school for six years (+ three specializations). A medical school prepares a doctor for you, for your case and for your care and let’s face it, all of them might not be nice, but they are smart, it’s a prerequisite for entering the education. It is therefore safe to assume that any knowledge you can find online, will exist within the knowledge of a doctor. Dr Google can’t check your blood values or perform an MRI and sometimes those two can be the difference between life and death for you. Dr Google, the evil one, makes the average Joe arrogant.
How can we benefit from Dr Google?
Dr Google can be an excellent tool for creating a bridge over the gap between the general public and medical knowledge i.e. doctors and patients. Perhaps it will help do dismantle prejudice and help patients understand their illness as well as recognize symptoms better.
Part 1 ) As it is. we can’t really benefit from Dr Google. It requires a whole new way of thinking. Google has to introduce a function that filters out bad advices when asking for issues related to medicine perhaps call it Dr Google or Google Medicine. After I posted this post, Google has put up an ad for “ask a doctor online” function on this blog. Which is a wonderful silent protest/feedback to show they do have the fraim of mind, and willing doctors. Still unknown if it is intentional or automatic, since I doubt that it is read. The fact is, good information exists, however, while typing in my headache symptoms one rarely ends up on such a function. Health literacy can’t only be put in the hands of doctors and Google. It has to be tought early on, so that even as we type we know which reliable source to turn to, so we don’t end up on the medpage of a 12-year-old. They can really make some credible pages nowadays.
Part 2) We have to start at an early age with health literacy. Teaching children and adults about their own bodies and how they should interpret health signs. If we teach the general public to be more expressive about their symptoms, we can shorten the distance between the patient and the provider/doctor. And provide them with an international and well known database that nobody has to think twice about, like Google is for general knowledge.
Part 3) Teach internet and health literacy in medical schools all over the world. That way, not only will young doctors perhaps spark an interest of the involvement in health literacy they might rise to the occasion and contribute, making the web safer for their patients. As it is now, internet/health literacy is not on the agenda, not in all countries and the internet is a global phenomenon. It will also create a better understanding for why their patients act like they do i.e. if they show up with a coat of pink skin. It might just be a bad advice from their evil little colleague, Dr Google.