Patients frequently want to be proactive and research what’s going on with their bodies. Of course, I’m not readily available, as are most physicians typically not available to answer instant questions (although my practice does have a patient portal that makes it fairly easy to ask questions). So in comes Dr. Google. Of course, I am not criticizing search engines at all…I’m hoping to find readers through a search engine.
The issue becomes your symptoms may be serious, and the information that comes back to you may not be relevant, helpful, or could be harmful. I don’t know right away who published this information. Did they study medicine? Are they trying to sell you something?
I’ll admit, I am willing to listen to the differential diagnosis generated by Dr. Google, but not for very long. Patient visits are already too short, and I don’t want to waste valuable time sifting through symtpoms generated by Dr. Google. Furthermore, I don’t want you as the patient to be worried about something that may not be a threat.
I often ask my patients if they are feeling the need to look up health information to be mindful of the source. To be on the safe side, there are a few websites that I always refer patients because the information is non-commercial (there won’t be a drug company trying to sell you a medication) and the information is vetted.
This website provides safe information concerning conditions and medications for you and your entire family.
One of my favorite references for herbal supplements. I routinely consult this for information on herbal supplements.
I use a site called PubMed, which is a research database of thousands of research articles. This site is what I trust the most, but also the most difficult to use. I found a helpful video here that will walk you through how to search a topic. Many articles are not free, but you will have the abstract, a short summary, of the research results for most all of them.
I use Google just as everyone else does, but often during a visit, I don’t have the luxury of telling patients why I can’t use Dr. Google’s recommendations while I’m taking care of my patients.
Just as a reminder, these substitutes are not replacment for emergency situations or questions, so if you are having an emergency you should still go to the ER or call 911.