It’s easy to dismiss the Internet as a risky place to look for health information. As HealthTap founder Ron Gutman joked the first time we met, ”On the Internet, every headache becomes a brain tumor in four clicks or less.”
If you’ve ever done an online search for an unfamiliar ache, you can probably relate: That weird pain in your side could mean appendicitis, food poisoning or pregnancy. That nasty rash on your arm could be poison ivy, a spider bite or cancer.
But despite “Dr. Google’s” shortcomings and concerns about so-called cyberchondria, the Web – and search engines in particular – remains a top destination for people seeking out health information. The Pew Internet & American Life Project this week reported that about a third of U.S. adults have gone online to look for health information. And, eight in 10 Internet users say their last health-related search began with a search engine – a figure that has not changed since Pew last asked that question in 2000, despite the rise of social media, health-specific content sites and startups.
The report also found that those health searchers are reaching diagnoses that their doctors disagree with about one-fifth of the time…
A few studies have attempted to evaluate the reliability of search engines but with mixed conclusions…On one hand, the Web can help direct people to valuable information and studies that even their doctors may not be aware of. But search engines alone don’t give people enough ways of gauging a source’s reliability or providing the context they may need to make the most of sources that are actually good…
Tools that connect doctors with patients in HIPAA-compliant digital environments are growing – HealthTap, for example, helps patients directly ask doctors questions online, and Ringadoc lets people consult physicians via video conference. But they’re just beginning to appeal to doctors who are willing to define their roles and organize their time differently.
As mobile adoption grows and digital natives age, a doctor willing to email you and curate online information isn’t just going to be a nice to have — for many, it will be a need to have.
That’s Heussner’s conclusion. The majority of doctors I’ve run into in recent years have been skeptical of absolutely anything I might learn online. With two exceptions. One is a dentist I’ve been seeing as needed for over a couple of decades. He knows me pretty well, knows my interest in science and medicine and the sources I read. The other is more recent – my dermatologist. But, he’s as much of a geek as I am and we share discussions on new findings in medicine in general. Along with geek topics, politics and the future of humankind. A delight.
The rest of the time? The response usually runs 110% negative.