Googlopathy: A Blessing or A Curse

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Time and time again, I’ve had patients come into my consulting room telling me their symptoms and what “they think” is wrong with them. I’m faced daily with a patient population who know more about their conditions than I do. As a primary care physician, I’ve had cause to question myself sometimes when challenged by patients who seemed to know too much. Now don’t get me wrong. I love having intellectual conversations with my patients and I love it when a patient is concerned about their health and all that. What bothers me is not the fact that the patient has information but the verity of the information available out there to the patient.

Bill Gates calls the Internet the town square for the global village. My fear is that many gossips and false information (or should I say half-truths) fly around in this town square and most people take such data as gospel truths because “the internet says so!” This leaves us with an epidemic of a scourging disease called Googlopathy. The patient believes he knows enough to treat himself and only comes to you to get a written prescription for the medication he saw online. She comes to you just to ask for permission to use this and that because someone online says it works for her condition. I’m actually happy that they are coming and I can correct these misinformations.

But what about the thousand others who don’t even bother to present to the hospital but simply check up their symptoms and go get these medications over the counter by themselves (especially in places where laws on prescriptions aren’t so stiff). They end up treating a possibly life threatening condition as a mere flu or headache. Sadly, placebo effect makes the “medicine” work in the short term, but the underlying problem hasn’t been taken care of and time only helps to worsen the case. By the time they present at a later date, there isn’t much that can be done.

We doctors didn’t spend more than half a decade of our lives getting a degree by just reading articles off Google. Every lecture and clinical exposure we had during medical school was designed to bring out the safe doctor in us. And sadly, Google doesn’t have a medical degree. It’s just raw data that must be properly applied to get the right results. Going online to check your symptoms isn’t a bad idea. But any site that provides information about health care would be nice enough to tell you when not to treat yourself and when to present to a qualified medical practitioner. Even “Google” knows it’s limits.

Let me quickly say that the Internet is as much a blessing as it is a curse, depending on how we use it. Sometimes in my consulting room, I’ve had to check up stuffs online in front of the patient and though some may frown at this practice, it has actually saved me from great blunders in some circumstances. Nobody knows it all, definitely! But the doctor is a doctor for a reason. If some people had as much faith in their doctors as they had in the internet, their health would be better off for it.

By

Dr Olufemi Osunlusi

MBBS Lagos

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