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.)
- In the order of sources, please consider: branches of the Federal Government (.gov), a non-profit institution (.org), a professional organization (.org), a health system (.edu), a commercial site (.com).
- There is a big difference between a blog that states, "I did IVF and transferred four embryos." and one that says, "This page on in vitro fertilization was developed by healthcare professionals at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine."
Be Skeptical: There is a lot of snake oil for sale on the Web!
- If the claims sound too good to be true, they probably are. Beware of claims that one treatment will cure a variety of conditions, or that it is a "breakthrough," or that it relies on a "secret ingredient."
- Use caution if the site uses sensational, sales-pitch-like writing.
- A web site for healthcare consumers should use simple language, not medical or technical jargon.
- Get multiple opinions. Check several respected web sites.
Always look for the evidence. Rely on valid research, not opinion.
- Look for the credentials of the author, whether an individual or an organization. For example, "Written by IVF Blogger, Jane Doe," or "Copyright 2018, Society of Assisted Reproductive Technology."
- Consulting Dr. Google: What Fertility Patients Should Know
- Look for dates on articles. Reproductive medicine is a rapidly changing field and information just several years old may not be the current practice.
Beware of commercial bias. Who or what organization is funding the site?
- Determine if the site is supported by public funding, donations or by commercial ads.
- All ads should be labeled as “Advertisements.” Be wary of a particular drug or procedure being highlighted throughout a particular web 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!”