Blog | Monday, December 2, 2019

Physicians should love patients and families using Google

It's difficult to imagine a world now without Google and the internet. It's also strange to think that most people alive right now received the bulk of their education in the pre-Internet era. I remember in the United Kingdom, where I went to medical school, Google only became a thing perhaps midway through university. Since then of course, the internet has exploded and penetrated every facet of our lives. And while we all know the many drawbacks of our current addiction to the online world, it's difficult for anyone to say that it hasn't been a net positive to society.

One of the most important ways we are now using the internet is to make informed health choices and read up around our illnesses. Unfortunately this hasn't always been met with enthusiasm by all members of the medical profession. A very popular online meme that's been circulated for years by frustrated doctors has been: ”Don't confuse your Google search with my medical degree.” I've heard that said countless times, albeit by a minority of physicians, and it's always disappointed me. I actually love the fact that patients and families can be well informed and read up around their condition. For goodness sake it's their or their loved one's life we are talking about. They should be totally clued in and always asking questions (despite being a doctor myself, I want to say to some of my colleagues: What the hell are you talking about, not wanting your patients to read up about the diagnosis afflicting their bodies!). I cannot imagine going back to a world where the doctor's opinion was absolute, and there was little option for otherwise educating yourself.

What a suboptimal situation. If there's any physician who gets annoyed, intimidated or frustrated by patients and families who Google search and ask them questions, that doctor should take a long hard look at their internal belief system. I for one, always welcome questions and challenges to what I'm saying, and see this as a natural part of being a professional. Sure, there will always be the odd annoying person or family that will take things too far, but these are the exception and not the rule. I am okay being quizzed or having someone cast doubt on something I say based on their own research, as long as it's asked in a respectable way (which it invariably always is).

I did see an online patient comeback to the above meme that goes like this: ”Don't confuse your one-hour lecture on my condition with my 20 years of living with it.” Yes. Doctors, we are here to serve, answer questions, and show empathy. Not judge our patients for researching their own health issues.

Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician, author and speaker. He is the founder of DocSpeak Communications and co-founder at DocsDox. He blogs at his self-titled site, where this post first appeared.