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For health issues, use online tools wisely
Computers can lead patients and their doctors to valuable health information, but the Internet should not replace medical relationships when it comes to accurate diagnoses and treatments.
Friends and acquaintances have often confided to me their recent diagnoses of incurable exotic diseases. Before my brain can determine if this illness requires multiple casseroles and dessert or just a trip to a fast-food restaurant, they reveal that they have not seen a doctor yet.
“I looked it up on the Internet, and I have all the symptoms,” he or she will tell me.
The Internet is a great place to research a diagnosed illness, but the amount of information can be overwhelming. More troubling is the fact that not everything on the Internet is true.
When researching information about your health or a health-related issue, keep a few things in mind.
-- What your mother said is true: you are unique. Not everything you find online applies to you or your situation.
-- The Internet cannot replace your doctor; you still need someone who knows you inside and out.
-- It could be as bad as you think it is, but it’s probably not. Remember the journalism saying, “If it bleeds, it leads”? The same is true when researching medical illnesses -- worst-case scenarios tend to take the lead.
Use the Internet for education and advocacy after a diagnosis. Ask your doctor to write down unfamiliar words. Take those keywords back, and type them into a search engine like Google, Bing or Yahoo. For example, imagine your child has been diagnosed with a peanut allergy. Search the following keywords to find peanut-free snack ideas: snacks –peanuts. The minus sign indicates that you do not want any search results that include peanuts.
The Internet also can be used to find support groups, and many support groups can be found on Facebook. This can be a great tool in helping you cope with an illness and connect you to others who share your diagnosis.
Another helpful way to use the Internet is to keep up with medical trials or new drugs that you could bring to your doctor’s attention. Doctors are busy people; they may not have time to research clinical trials being conducted in Israel that have not yet been approved here in America.
If you promise to research your medical condition responsibly before you tell me about it, I promise to put you on the homemade casserole list. Otherwise, it’s the dollar menu.