Sunday, September 10, 2006

Medi-Googling?

I was involved in a discussion recently about the illness of a good friend. There was some concern over the methods of treatment our friend was undergoing. Now if you ever want to bring out the opinions of many, introduce the topic of medicine. It's become as volatile a topic as politics and religion are.

One person, whom I was not too familiar with, opened his comments with "I work in the medical field, and I think that..."

Right there, the alarms go off in my head.

Turns out this person works for a company that archives and stores medical transcripts. As a data technician, I believe he said.

That made me think. I know the Internet is a great resource for information and all, but I think it's creating a whole new set of problems, the main one being the creation of a whole new breed of "Experts". Some people now feel qualified to cite themselves as "experts", giving opinions on things based on something they "read on the internet".

If someone says they "work in the medical field", it's a pretty good chance they aren't a doctor, because a doctor will say "I'm a doctor..."

I could technically say that I worked in the medical field too, because when I was in college, I worked for a Custodial company, and two of the offices we cleaned were Doctors' offices. I would tend to trust a medical opinion given by a doctor a lot sooner than one given by someone who is inputting data from a medical transcript, or who cleans Doctors' offices.

Why? Well a few months ago my kid and I did some research for a science project. The class was to do a study and project on something related to heart disease, and my daughter was assigned to look at angiograms. So I got heavily involved into researching the topic. I would say I spent a full 5 hours researching and reading on my own, outside of what we did for the class project. I now fully understand exactly how one is done, what it involves and what it reveals to the Doctor. So, what do ya say? Do you want me to do one on you?

While I do believe a lot of good can come from having a tool like the Internet, I also believe it is becoming the source of some problems. Think about urban legends, and how fast they can be come to be held as popular belief. Come on, admit it...we all forwarded at least one version of the Microsoft/AOL joint venture email, you know, the one that promised to send you 5 cents for every person you forwarded it to? (I always wondered how I was going to cash a $20,000 check made out to "Stupidsheetguy".) Or the warnings about flashing your headlights at a car being driven without headlights, or the hypodermic needles in the coin return at the payphone. And somewhere on the globe, some bizarre combination of factors results in something like a car exploding at the gas station, and someone blames it on the victim's use of a cellphone while pumping gas. (God if people really blew up at gas stations because they were using cellphones, we'd have a bigger pandemic on our hands than the Avian flu.) Pretty much, every one of those "URGENT WARNING, DO NOT DELETE" emails you get will inevitably relate the story of some freakish accident or other misfortune that happened to someone's brother's girlfriend's sister's husband's 3rd cousin. And if you take a minute the next time, before you forward out the Letter Of Armageddon, go to www.snopes.com and just type in the subject line of the email into the supplied search engine, and I'll bet you you'll find just what you're reading about. Snopes is a website dedicated solely to debunking all the urban legends, misinformation and other nonsense that plague the Internet.

I mean the occasional mass-hysteria situation is harmless enough. A lot worse things can happen than people looking closely into that coin slot. But the thing that bothers me is how much the Internet is becoming chock full of misinformation, and by the same token, devoid of any information worth having in the first place.

Take this for example: I went to Google and typed this random question: "How do they make plastic bottles?" These are, verbatim, the first few search results:

Book results for how do they make plastic bottles?

Do Carrots Make You See Better? - by Julie Appleton, Nadiine McCrea, Carla Patterson - 208 pagesThe Amazing Earth Model Book - by Donald M Silver - 96 pagesBook of Successful Swimming Pools - by Ronald Derven, Carol Nichols

Recycle It: Things you can do with old plastic pop bottles
Small thingee holder - Cut the top off 2 litre bottles so they stand 6-8 inches tall. ... Make plastic shapes - Take a clear bottle and draw the shape of a ...www.make-stuff.com/recycling/plastic_bottles.html - 19k -
Cached - Similar pages

Yahoo! Answers - why do they hang plastic bottles in fruit trees?
why do they hang plastic bottles in fruit trees? ... THE BOTTLES ARE USUALLY CUT OUT TO MAKE IT INTO BIRD FEEDER IN SOME TREES .....BUT IN FRUIT TREES ITS ...answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060902203449AA06UY1 - 65k -
Cached - Similar pages

Not a lot of help there, huh? I thought it was a little funny that the last entry there was Google's search engine giving me results from Yahoo's search engine, too.

But to me, that's not even the biggest problem. I still maintain my biggest concern isn't so much that we're creating a ton of "Experts", it's the area that they claim "expertise" in, which is Medicine. People are self-diagnosing, which is bad enough, but there are others who don't stop there. They're prescribing treatments for others as well, and that just scares the hell out of me. Hey, as I said, "angiogram, anyone?"

Even some legitimate Web resource such as www.webmd.com can be misused. That site is designed to help us understand and interpret what our doctors tell us; it shouldn't be used as a substitute for a medical degree. I mean, I've spent some time on www.drugs.com , so I have a pretty good understanding of how to use the medicines I've been prescribed. Should I write you a prescription for that sore throat?

I'm not saying it's all bad. There is nothing wrong with supplementing the information we get from Doctors, or taking steps to further inform ourselves about what we've been told by experts. It's always a good thing to be informed, because that can prompt us to ask pertinent questions. What I mean by that is that in one instance, a friend had read up on a medicine that shouldn't be taken with certain other medicines, and that caused him to mention it to his Doctor when a prescription was written. Problem avoided!

I just think I'd prefer to know, next time I catch a flight, that my pilot actually trained in the Air Force, or an accredited flight school, and not Microsoft's "Flight Simulator".

Ya know?

3 comments:

  1. I think the worst thing about the internet's medical knowledge is you can find "whatever you want to hear". It's a great place to get educated, and to help you ask your DOCTOR intelligent questions, but beyond that......I'm with you....My plumber better have some experience with pipes and not just some 3-D game!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, once again...the bittersweet nature of technology. It, like anything, can be misused, abused and can cause problems as easily as it solves them.
    I've become so skeptical that I even wonder about those "Snopes" sites as whether or not THEY are hoaxes within themselves!
    And no thanks..I'll pass on your angio offer.

    Nancy
    http://journals.aol.com/nhd106/Nancyluvspix/entries/2006/09/10/911-tribute/1261

    ReplyDelete
  3. So Jimmy, when can you fit me in for that angiogram?! Lol!

    ReplyDelete

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