This is a common problem anyone in a health profession runs into. Someone reads something online and either they have this disease or they really need this medication or herb. This can be very difficult to handle politely. You don’t want to insult patients, but you do have to make sure they understand exactly what’s wrong and how best to treat it.
Symptom Checkers: These can be handy, but oftentimes they don’t allow the user to put in all of the pertinent details. Someone with a migraine may be told they have spinal meningitis or vice versa. The former would scare the user and the latter could be deadly…all over a headache.
Looking up Diseases: This is something that has some really good points and at least one really bad point. The good points are knowing what to expect in the illness, how long it will take to recuperate, what medications might be needed and whether or not it’s contagious.
The drawback can be when the diagnosis is an “if you get well” type of thing. The doctor may not tell you that your chances of survival are really low. What we expect to happen often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Knowing that the odds are against you may make you unwilling to fight.
Checking Medications: There are good points and bad points to this as well. The good point is that it will help you understand what you are taking, what it will do, how long you will be on it and what interactions you may have to deal with. A good site will also tell you if there are any foods that you need to avoid while taking the medication.
The bad part is when a patient has it so set in mind that they demand a prescription for it. There are different ways to approach an illness. It took four different attempts to find a working blood pressure medication for me. Two didn’t work and I was allergic to the third. It shows quite clearly that the doctor needs to decide what I take. We often discuss the various medications, but not from me telling him what to prescribe.
How to Do it Right: First, use only reputable websites. There are quite a few, including the university of Maryland school of Complementary Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Medscape and Medline. They are some of the sites I use when writing.
Second, always talk to your doctor about your symptoms and medications. The doctor has spent another dozen years after high school to learn how to take care of you. It could save your life.