More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Medical Googlers
New York Times Well Blog
January 11, 2008

It?s time for a second opinion about medical Googlers.

As readers of the Well blog will recall, one of the liveliest discussions to take place here centered around a doctor?s disdain for medical Googlers. New York orthopedist Dr. Scott Haig wrote an essay in Time magazine complaining about a class of patients he called ?brainsuckers'? ? those patients who research their symptoms, illness and doctors on the Web before seeking treatment.

Now another doctor has weighed in on the debate. Dr. Rahul K. Parikh, a San Francisco pediatrician, has written his own essay for and notes that physicians like Dr. Haig who reject the Googlers do so at their peril.

?The Internet is a disruptive innovation that has overturned the status quo. It has leveled the playing field between expert and novice ? in this case, doctor and patient. While some doctors ? may find that challenge threatening to their status as an expert, the Web is now providing the kind of information doctors need to be aware of if we want to continue to be good at our job, and the kind of trends that can help patients be smarter and healthier.?​
Dr. Parikh notes that Dr. Haig?s original article reflects the angst of many doctors about the Internet. He cites a 2001 study of doctors that showed barely half of them encouraged their patients to go online, and 80 percent actually warned them against doing so. But it?s simply bad business to force patients to venture onto the Internet alone, he says.

?When patients do venture online themselves, they can sink into a swamp of outdated medical studies, confront a lot of misinformation, and risk creating a rift in the doctor-patient relationship.?​
Dr. Parikh says it is a lesson pediatricians have already learned. He notes that doctors weren?t paying attention in the late ?90s, when patients were just beginning to go online en masse and theories about vaccines and autism were first circulating.

?We weren?t paying much attention until parents started to refuse vaccines. When we looked, we realized that many parents were exposed to story after story on autism Web sites and in chat rooms about the dangers of vaccines. That echo chamber of opinion became a reality despite our best efforts to prove otherwise?. Would things have been different if we had engaged our patients from the get-go by providing them with alternative Web sites, scrutinizing and rebutting anti-vaccine ?science,? or posting studies demonstrating vaccine safety in the public domain? I would answer, emphatically, yes.?​
Instead of rejecting medical Googlers, doctors would be well advised to guide them to reputable sites from respected medical institutions like the Mayo Clinic or other sites with which they are familiar.

?Doctors need to know about them so that along with a prescription for a medication or lab test, they can give patients a prescription for information that informs, empowers and helps patients be smarter and healthier.'?​
Dr. Haig hasn?t returned e-mails seeking comment.

Full essay

Dr. Haig?s original essay


I use to be a medical googler...until one day my dr told me to take anything I read on the internet with a grain of salt..and NOT to look up side effects of a particular medication online,but trust him and the pharmacist to explain any side effects

I realized too that I could get myself into a state of sheer panic reading about certain medical conditions and would convince myself that I HAD THAT...I use to call it "disease du jour"

I have long since stopped doing that...
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