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Patients Abuse the Internet

Patients use the Internet searching for health information. Doctors are afraid to provide information confusing this with medical advice. Doctors could use the Internet to provide credible sources of information.

Most of the time I write about information about regarding macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.  As many of you remember, I am very interested in persuading more docs to do the same, that is, provide credible health information on the Internet.

An article in Reuter’s claims that over 50% of Americans turned to the Internet for health information last year.  Way to go!  At the same time, fewer than 5% ever bothered to email their own doctor.

As more and more people are turning to the Internet for health information, I am hopeful more and more doctors will meet you there by providing solid, credible health information.

Docs are resistant to using the Internet.  There are misgivings at several layers.  Basically, docs don’t want to give away their expertise and are afraid of getting sued by offering medical advice that may be… well, wrong.  But they don’t have to give away advice as patients are looking for information…not opinion.

The difference between information and advice is that information is factual.  Advice is an opinion.   Doctors get information and advice mixed up.  I believe patients search the Internet for health information for the same reason we want to know about world news…they just want to know.  They want information about a disease or sickness.

People crave information.  The single biggest activity that occurs everyday on the Internet is “search.”  People are constantly searching, or “Googling,” for information.  But I don’t think patients are looking for advice.

Clinical judgment is what keeps doctors special.  Clinical judgment arises as a result of melding together facts with patient experience.  I support doctors publishing facts.  Clinical judgment entails an exam that can NOT be facilitated over the Internet…ergo, there should be nothing to fear.

Clinical judgment does not exist on the Internet, it will always be what keeps a doctor “unique.”

What Does This Mean? This means that doctors, and other health authorities, really should feel free to publish credible health information.  Information does not mean you are giving advice, opinion or treatment.  There really aren’t any liability issues.

From a public health perspective, the more good information on the web, the more likely someone will seek medical attention.

This web site is intended to be a single source of information about diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration.  There should be more like it.  There is no abuse.

“Randy”

Randall V. Wong, M.D.

Ophthalmologist, Retina Specialist
Fairfax, Virginia