Stop Harassing Dr. Google

NOVEMBER 11, 2015
Ryan Gray, MD
When I first started seeing patients on my own, I would get annoyed when patients came in with printouts from WebMD, Health.com, or the dreaded Wikipedia. 
 
Patients took to the Internet looking for answers, but usually just came away with more fears. 
 
I initially took it as a slap in the face; they didn't trust me as their physician. They assumed that I wouldn't be able to do my job and take care of them. Or at least that is what I assumed.
 
I was annoyed that they came in with all this information that I then had to go through and try to rebut if I thought it was wrong. 
 
I was worried that disagreeing with their initial findings from the Internet would cause issues in our relationship. Again, this is what I assumed.
 
The more and more it happened, though, the more I realized that it was an opportunity for me to learn. It was an opportunity for me to ask them, in a joking way, what Dr. Google thought they had, and listen to their concerns. 
 
It was a way for me to learn about something that I might not have thought of in the first place. It was an opportunity to possibly trigger me to ask something that I might not have asked in the first place, and might lead me to a better diagnosis, or the correct diagnosis.
 
When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year, I was quickly put into the role of the patient and immediately turned to Dr. Google for my own questions. I quickly realized what it was like to have the fears and anxieties that my patients had, that your patients have.
 
Dr. Google isn't our enemy; we are our enemy. We need to understand that the patients have their anxieties and their concerns, and that they think they're doing what's in their best interest by going online and doing this research. 
 
We need to know that we don't have access to all of the information in the world, and that there just may be something the patients finds that you wouldn't have thought of.
 
I don't want to call you out, but I would guess that you're not caught up with every single journal in your specific specialty. I'm guessing that you aren't well aware of all of the new findings about some of the more common medications that you prescribe. It's nearly impossible for you to keep up, so don't worry that you're not.
 
Unfortunately in medicine, it's information overload. Sometimes, it's nice to have the patient as an assistant in gathering this information. That's how I now view Dr. Google.
 
Dr. Google is just one more data point for us to use when we see a patient. It gets added to our thorough history and physical. 
 
It is one more piece of information that helps us form a differential diagnosis and discuss with the patient what is going on with him or her. 
 
Don't be afraid of Dr. Google, don't chastise the patients either in front of them or with your colleagues because of Dr. Google. Use it as an opportunity to learn and to teach.
 
Dr. Google is your friend.


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