Consulting Dr. Google: What Fertility Patients Should Know
Infertility? “Hormonal problems”? Endometriosis? Miscarriage? …
While it is certainly tempting to search the Internet for health-related questions, it must always be remembered that surfing the web, or consulting “Dr. Google” is never a substitute for actual medical care. It is obvious that a search engine cannot take the place of a detailed medical history, a thorough physical examination, appropriate laboratory and diagnostic testing, and informed consultation performed by a board-certified physician; however, several patients daily tell me that they have done their “research” on the Internet, with many having diagnosed and treated themselves! Not infrequently, patients present with photocopies of a number of scholarly journal articles as evidence of their Internet search to argue for or against their diagnosis, treatment plan, or other convictions.
There is nothing wrong with checking a search engine for things medical or surgical. For example, last year, I was having excruciating lower back pain and I turned to PubMed, Google Scholar, and other organizational and educational Internet sites for articles on treatment. Although my medical training to the point of residency was focused on neurosurgery, I did not presume that my reading of a few journal articles on laminectomy could replace the vast study and experience of a well-respected neurosurgeon.
When physicians seek medical care, they ask their respected colleagues for recommendations. When I was looking for a back surgeon, I asked neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, and anesthesiologists: “Who would you see if you needed lumbar back surgery?” Another good method for selecting a provider is to check those physicians who are on “Best Doctors” and “Top Doctors” lists. Although for thirty-three years we have seen many hundreds of physicians as patients at the Center for Reproductive Medicine, curiously, not once has a physician ever told us of their “research” on the Internet or challenged our diagnoses or treatments based upon a web search.
Since most of us do consult with Dr. Google, at least occasionally, the following tips may result in the best quality information:
Know the Source. (Everyone is not an authority.)
Be Skeptical: There is a lot of snake oil for sale on the Web!
Always look for the evidence. Rely on valid research, not opinion.
Beware of commercial bias. Who or what organization is funding the site?
Always protect your health information. Confidentiality is critically important.
Finally, if one has a healthcare concern, after consultation with the virtual physician, Dr. Google, she or he should see an actual board-certified, well-respected physician and get a “second opinion!”