One morning, I was sitting down to my computer to research some great info to share with my social media followers and there was a popular, cooking page posting health questions from their followers for other followers to answer. I cringed...and got a flush of worry...so I clicked on the comments...
I couldn't believe what I saw!! So many people were weighing in with their own experiences and what they've "heard" from certain websites and whatnot. Not one of them was a medical professional and MUCH of the advice was dangerous in my medical opinion.
But this is the new wave of the internet right? Ask Dr. Google? Tweet a medical question? Facebook a photo of your rash? Or type in a few symptoms to see what pops up?
Those of us with medical knowledge are legally and ethically bound to only dispense it for people we see in person so we can get all the info before making a safe medical decision.
So what about these people who have no liability or training? Does that really mean they have free reign to pass out or promote potentially bad medical advice to anyone who will listen? Freedom of speech (and tiny font disclaimers) say yes. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for free speech, but there are a lot of people who believe that "if it's on the Internet, it must be true," and that myth is why I am writing this.
I'm all for community support and I do feel it can be very healing to share your personal story online or read someone else's story and know you aren't alone in what you are going through. Plus, there are a lot of really great sites out there promoting health and wellness in a safe and responsible way from people who are passionate, self-taught and who know what is appropriate advice and what is not.
That being said, it is not MEANT to be medical advice specifically for the reader and may not be safe for everyone. Always, ALWAYS ask your medical practitioner about any advice you are wondering about before trying it on your own (I even say that on many of my posts, as well as it being in my disclaimer since my goal is to promote general health and wellness in this forum and that I am not prescribing specific medical advice to anyone).
Imagine, if you are say, an engineer. And I came to you one day and handed you an article I found on the Internet that told me in 800 words everything I need to know to build a bridge. Would you now trust me to build a new bridge for the city? No, you would not. This is what happens to me all the time. My colleague says it best when he tells people "knowledge without wisdom can be deadly when it comes to medical advice." Educate yourself, yes. But assume it gives you medical knowledge to apply to yourself, no. Even we doctors know self-treating gets murky, which is why we go to each other when we need medical care.
People come to me all the time, saying I need to read this book, or that website, yet they don't recognize that they are in my office literally because they've been doing what's in that book or website and it's not working for them.
If it were working, they wouldn't be in my office. BUT THE INTERNET SAID...
While the wellness industry is full of people who mean well, I see bad health advice on a daily basis. Anyone can make a website and call themselves a health/life/wellness/holistic coach, or even a naturopath (see my page on the difference between a "naturopath" and a licensed naturopathic physician). But that doesn't always mean they have ANY training.
I've met a few health coaches who have had a few months of nutrition classes online, yet they are selling herbal and nutritional supplements that they have NOT had any training in.
People come in to my office all the time saying that they read on the Internet that they need to take this or eat that. Or the grocery store clerk gave me this (which is contraindicated with their prescription medication or contraindicated in another condition they have but forgot to mention to the clerk). This can be dangerous, so I just want to add a few reminders...
- The Internet is an endless source of information, both credible and opinion (a LOT of opinion...this piece being one). Opinion and observational trends absolutely have a place in medical research, but it is not necessarily a prescription for you to take without medical supervision.
- If you truly want reliable information, be sure to look for sources AND CLICK ON THEM to see if they are real - lots of people will list sources to seem credible, but they actually do not exist or have never been published or reviewed (this is a marketing trick done by a LOT of multi-level-marketing companies - "Here, look at the proof with these studies on fancy letterhead..." which have never been published...or reviewed...by anyone outside of our company...).
- Anyone can make a website and it's not that difficult to make it look professional or even trick you into thinking they are an actual business or run by a "doctor," etc. I've even been stumped a few times with products patients have brought in to me or asked me to research (and I was a web designer before I was a doc).
- Support forums can be amazing, but there is always that small group of people who think what worked (or didn't work) for them will work (or not work) for everyone and therefore they try to force their ideas onto whomever will listen - just be cautious and have good boundaries.
- What works for some may not work for you and it can be really dangerous when laypeople WITHOUT medical knowledge are giving medical advice. Whether it's a coaching Facebook page or a health food store clerk - these people may be very knowledgable with supplements and herbs and "natural" products that they have experience with or want to sell to you, but without medical training, and without knowing your full story, they will not know what to look out for. The best answer is ALWAYS to go see your doctor. They know your history best and can tell you the right treatment FOR YOU.
- I realize it's easier, faster and cheaper to post something online and read the answers and try stuff - but to what end? You get what you pay for. Know when it's right for you to seek medical evaluation and treatment versus just making a few general health changes.
- Don't become a cyberchondriac - you research your symptoms and see "cancer" come up or "brain tumors." Of course, with vague symptoms and not the whole story, that's all that will come up - vague answers. This can start a whole rabbit-hole situation that can cause a lot more harm than good - and as we all know, stress and anxiety significantly affects your whole health. Use the information available via the web to EMPOWER you, not destroy you.
- Remember that your doctor went to medical school AND (hopefully) keeps up on the latest research. Dr. Internet gives you data, but without that basic medical knowledge and ability to apply that data to each individual's physiology, it can't be your doctor. Otherwise, we wouldn't have doctors. Medicine isn't a science, it's an art. An art that takes endless years of study and practice (and is never made perfect).
The bottom line is everyone has an opinion, many of which are valid. But it's your health and your story. Nobody is exactly like you. And the best person who can help you is the one who knows you best in addition to having the medical knowledge to figure out what is happening to your body. Sure, it's great to educate yourself. But add that information to the whole picture and don't hold it as the only piece of the puzzle. If your medical professional isn't open to hearing your research or questions, get a second opinion or find someone who can take the time to discuss it with you.
As with anything, it all comes down to moderation. If it's how to remove a hangnail or what can help the pain of a canker sore - sure, check it out online. But if there is blood in your poo, or you've lost 30 pounds in the last month without trying, or you are having seizures, or your 3 year-old daughter has just lost consciousness (sadly, all of these were taken from real Facebook posts)…PLEASE PUT THE LAPTOP/IPAD/IPHONE DOWN AND GO TO YOUR DOCTOR OR THE EMERGENCY ROOM AS APPROPRIATE.
- A PSA from Dr. K.