Every year, millions of people seek online medical information about health concerns on the Internet. The advent of DIY home-testing kits and the increasing cost of healthcare, combined with the ever-increasing amount of information available online with just a few simple keystrokes, has made it easier than ever for people to become their own “Dr. Google.” About one-third of the adult population will use the info they find to self-diagnose an illness and never end up consulting an actual physician. Unfortunately, not all of these “online diagnoses” end up as the right conclusion or the right treatment.
“Dr. Google” May be Unreliable
For some illnesses, there are plenty of readily available, reputable information online. A search for an illness like the flu or a condition such as diabetes will turn up multiple sources. For many common conditions, the search engine giant, Google, has even compiled some of that information for you. On the other hand, less common conditions or specialized procedures may prove tricky – so how do you know?
Consult a Medical Expert
Meet Dr. Rod Rohrich. Dr. Rohrich is an internationally-known physician specializing in cosmetic and plastic surgery. He is active in both clinical operations as a practicing surgeon and in academics as a professor. He is the founding Chairman of the Department of Plastic Surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center, as well as a founding Director of the renowned, Dallas Plastic Surgery Institute. Dr. Rohrich is Board Certified in Plastic Surgery and is a member of multiple professional organizations on the national, state and local levels. He has authored over 600 academic publications and has been the recipient of a number of prestigious awards in his specialty field. In short, Dr. Rohrich is a true medical/surgical expert.
Through his work in academics and clinical practice, Dr. Rohrich has learned of the pitfalls of Internet medicine and he is on a mission to solve some of those issues. For his specialty, cosmetic and plastic surgery, Dr. Rohrich has set out to develop a repository of information that can be accessed by the public. His online medical information is educational, comprehensive and easy to understand. He also plans to expand the medical topics beyond his area of specialty by working with experts in other areas to provide the same type of information across the field of medicine.
Identify Reliable Sources
Not everything happens in a flash; however, and while that database is developing, here are a few tips for finding accurate and reliable medical information online:
- Look for information from a trusted or reliable source – a highly respected physician or an academic institution (a university or medical school), a government agency (National Institutes of Health), a hospital system or a specialty doctor associated with one of the above.
- Ensure that information is complete with discussions of signs and symptoms, treatments and outcomes as well as a discussion of the risks and benefits.
- Make sure that everything is written in “every day” language that you can understand.
- Don’t think that you need to pay for access to information. If you can’t get access without signing up – look away.
- Avoid sites that are sponsored by drug companies, medical equipment suppliers or other commercial sites.
- Know that information on the site should be easily identified as written or reviewed by a credentialed physician.
Remember that online medical information should be used to add to the knowledge you get from a physician – and not substitute for an actual consultation. While most physicians appreciate the well-informed patient, misinformation and online diagnosis gained from the Internet can delay treatment or make getting the right treatment more difficult.