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How to Search Medicine

Posted on October 19, 2013 by

When I was in medical school I had this anatomy book that had quotes written on the inside binder edge. One read, “Those who know nothing, and those who know a lot are not the problem. It is those who know some that are the most dangerous.” While I cannot remember the author of this quote or the context that it came from, I have never forgotten this quote and often think of it when I work with patients. The internet has a tremendous amount of information, good and bad. But when it comes to medicine, drugs, and treatment it can become dangerous waters to tread in. In the interest of brevity, let give one simple example. I often receive calls from patients who tell me, “I read on the internet ________ (fill in the blank).” Let’s say, “I read on the internet that this medication causes weight gain,” and I had discussed the side effects with the patient, informing them that it does not cause weight gain. Of course the patient is upset with me feeling that I mislead them with the side effects. Usually when I ask them, “where did you read that?” they reply on several websites and people blogging. Unfortunately, this subjective reporting is never valid as people who post their personal experiences do post all of their behaviors including ones that can lead to weight gain from others sources such as how much alcohol they drink, what other drugs, prescribed or illicit, that they take, and other types of stressors that they may not want to make public. Physicians, on the other hand, have a vast amount of experience prescribing to hundreds of patients and know both the clinical response to medication as well as the vast amount of formal and technical information they receive for the medications they prescribe (which is significantly more than most would read or understand on the internet). So I often tell my patient’s that it is important to remain educated and informed about their healthcare and medications but to be careful of the sources of information. Respected sites like WedMD are much more reliable than someones blog or webpage that may look impressive. Some healthcare sites look very professional and informative but also have an agenda that is not objective. Drug manufacturers in the U.S. actually have to, by law, include all testing data including side effects reported by people who took the medication in clinical trials, wether it was caused by the drug or not. It patients what to know about side effects, this is actually one of the best places to research as all side effects are listed with the percentage of people who report a particular side effect and also the number of people who took a placebo who also reported that side effect. This can help give a better perspective than even knowing what people do report. If 8% of people report getting an upset stomach when taking a medication and 7% of people taking the placebo in the study also report an upset stomach, then the likely hood that the medication is causing the side effect is less. The main point I want to make here is that when you do have questions about medications or your healthcare, print out what you read and bring it to your doctor for discussion. Also, please inform your doctor of any alternative treatment you may have started that you read on the internet or heard from a friend as this too can be dangerous, even when treatments are “natural.” I recently had a patient come into my office for an intake and she reported that she read about Kava on the internet and had been using this over-the-counter product for a few months for sleep and anxiety. Unfortunately, the lab work I ordered at her first visit should she was developing liver failure from the Kava. Work with your physicians with regard to your healthcare and maintain an open discussion so that you are comfortable with your treatment. Do not use the internet as your doctor!

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