Blog | Friday, November 14, 2014

Health care, the unforgiving online world versus real life

It’s funny to think that the internet and the online world, so entrenched in our modern day lives, is still a relatively new phenomenon. When I first started medical school (not really that long ago) we hardly used the internet and the concept of a web search barely existed. It only became widely available on home computers shortly after that.

The invention of social media is newer still. If any of us had been told 10 years ago that we would be carrying around phones and mobile devices that would instantly be able to pull up any information and communicate with the rest of the world through so many different channels, we probably would have found it quite incredulous. Fast forward to today and a lot of what we learn, opinions that grab our attention, and issues that become important to us—we hear about through this new online world.

For those of us in health care, this means that we are getting a large percentage of our daily information through a combination of news articles, opinion pieces, and social blogs. A scroll through the comments section of any of these will quickly reveal how high passions are running. Sadly, the picture can often be painted extremely negative (which actually holds true for most things that are debated online—be it politics, celebrity or other news events).

Major media outlets like the New York Times have been leading the charge recently—running stories about problems such as health care transparency and inappropriate billing practices. All, I may say, very valid issues that need to be raised. Other online blogs such as the popular have regular physician-written articles that vent their widespread daily frustrations. Anyone reading these could naturally feel quite dejected about the state of medicine. Doctors seem to have a laundry list of complaints about the profession. Patients are derogatory and condemn doctors and hospitals about their bad experiences. The general public posting comments often don’t have a good thing to say either.

But while it’s true that health care does indeed have a lot of challenges to overcome, I’m also convinced about the fact that the positives significantly outweigh the negatives—a fact that cannot be garnered from just reading the internet. And herein lies the problem with the online world versus the real world as it pertains to health care and the practice of medicine. My own experience is that health care is an overwhelmingly accommodating, compassionate and kind environment, where nothing short of heroes work each and every day.

Despite what I read online, I find the vast majority of patients to be courteous, highly respectful, trusting and ultimately very grateful. Likewise I think the vast majority of physicians are the same way, among the most dedicated professionals you could ever meet. I think that most doctors when pressed will have more good things to say about their profession than bad, and I know that most patients will do likewise for their interactions with doctors.

Who would have guessed this after reading all those news articles and blogs? This is a problem for many reasons, but the most consequential is the fact that the younger generation now get most of their initial information and impressions online. The future would-be doctors and nurses are saturated with negativity. Antagonism that doesn’t entirely hold true for the realities of frontline medicine. There is no job or system in the world which is 100% perfect, but the health care world is nowhere near as bad as the internet makes out. I would reassure the next generation that the online arena can be a very gloomy place. I would tell them to spend some time in hospitals, with real everyday doctors, nurses and patients, before forming their opinions. I would also encourage those involved in medical online publishing to just occasionally focus on the massive amount of good that’s out there as well.

Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care. This post originally appeared at his blog.