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Dealing with “Dr. Google”

By: Dr. Cynthia H. Manabat

“Not everything you read on the internet is TRUE.”

“I didn’t study Medicine for 10 (or 12 or 15) years, just to be replaced by a search engine.”

"If you believe in Google so much, why don’t you consult Dr. Google?”

These are just some of the thoughts that we are sometimes tempted to verbalize when faced with a patient who tells us “Doc, according to my research on the internet…”

Indeed, we live in an era where medical information is freely available 24/7 on the web, and patients need to discern which information is accurate, reliable or erroneous. They need our help in wading through the enormous amount of medical information available online.

In this situation, the worst thing we can do is be dismissive. After all, the very fact the patient is in our clinic means he acknowledges that he needs our help and expertise. So what should we do?

First, we need to listen. Let us resist the temptation to cut the patient off after the first five seconds. His concerns are valid, after all. We need to keep the communication lines open, pay attention not only to what he is saying, but to his non-verbal cues as well.

Sometimes, our patients just need to know that we are listening to them – their fears, anxieties, concerns. They need to be heard, acknowledged and respected.

As our patients become more web-savvy, we too need to change with the times. We can in fact, suggest to them websites which we trust will give them the correct information – especially regarding lifestyle, medical nutrition, monitoring, drugs.

The website of the American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org) for example, has links to patient-friendly information, including articles about living with diabetes, food and fitness, and other resources that may be of interest to the person with diabetes. The International Diabetes Federation website (www.idf.org) has a lot of information for the health professional but also for the patient, such as risk factors, DM prevention, complications. In the future, we envision a FAQ section in our own website (www.pcdef.org) where we may help to address some of the frequent diabetes-related queries from our patients.

Dr. Google can never replace the interaction between a doctor and his patient. The extensive medical history, the thorough physical examination, the considered diagnosis and differential diagnoses, even the healing touch, the banter and the humor. We need not compete with Dr. Google. We can enlist him as our ally in the delivery of outstanding medical care.