I get this all the time: “Sorry, Dr Wong, you probably hate this, but I looked up my symptoms on Dr Google and it said . . .” My answer is always the same, “No need to apologize, I am so glad you took the time to look into things yourself a bit. Let’s talk about what I’m seeing and how to put everything together.”
Really. I’m genuinely glad when someone invests the effort to do some homework for themselves, because it means that they care enough to try to figure out their own bodies. AND they are willing to get help from a trusted source to verify that what they are thinking is good.
What teacher doesn’t like it when a student has read ahead on assignments and comes prepared to discuss the assignment in class? Who wouldn’t love that enthusiasm and drive?
The problem with Dr Google is that it has an overwhelming amount of information. We all know that there are many websites that provide well-curated, helpful, reliable information. But there are way, way more websites that are all about selling you on their ideas, products, and services.
And I trust that my patients are discerning enough to know the difference between good information and scams. And the fact that they are sharing with me tells me that they trust me to partner with them in figuring out next steps. After all, they could have taken Dr Google’s advice - of course many people do, for better or worse.
I realize that not all patients are encouraged to take ownership of their health. The problem is that our model of how the doctor-patient relationship should work has been in transition, and continues to evolve in the information era.
Many of us are still operating on a model from prior generations where doctors were always the experts with all the knowledge and skills. Patients were expected to be passive and compliant because, “The doctor knows best!”. My parents in law, who are both in their 90s, have never and would not dare to question their doctor’s authority.
No one else can be responsible for taking care of ourselves but us.
But in the age of the internet, information is ubiquitous, whether in medicine or law or any profession. Our jobs have become more complicated because we are applying our skills and experience to sorting through an ever-expanding body of knowledge, seeking out what’s most relevant to an individual.
Just think about how overwhelming it can be to sort through all the information and opinions about COVID vaccines. There are so many different ways to interpret the same data, and yet more opinions about how policy should be impacted, whether at the local school district or state government level.
Different people may prefer different approaches from their doctor, and there is nothing inherently right or wrong with any approach. It comes down to a matter of personal preference.
I have always been the kind of doctor who shares my impression of the patient’s conditions and offers options for approach. We discuss the pros and cons to conventional medicine and integrative medicine options. Even when I’m asked, “What would you do if you were in my shoes?” I will always add the caveat that my preferences, my values, and my habits are my own, and she must consider hers when making a decision.
My belief is that my patient is the expert of her body - she knows what will or won’t work for her in terms of lifestyle. In fact, no health practitioner can make decisions for us. No one else can be responsible for taking care of ourselves but us.