I got a number of interesting responses to my post on Susannah Fox’s brief speech.
Susannah’s work at the Pew Internet & American Life Project is really good stuff and I enthusiastically recommend reading all of it- but I gave her a hard time for elements of her remarks at the Health 2.0 (non-)conference in San Diego a couple weeks ago because I felt these elements were poorly reasoned or misleading. Susannah’s remarks probably bothered me more than they should have because I had the unreasonable expectation that she could do as well in a few spoken minutes what she usually does in longer-form writing.
In response to my kvetching, Susannah graciously posted the 2001 press release from the American Medical Association that she mentioned in her remarks and says of it:
I incorporated the AMA release into my remarks at Health 2.0 as an example of an organization that was slow to adapt to the new realities of the information marketplace…
Here’s an image of the section:
The text says:
6. Remember that the Internet cannot replace a physician’s experience and training.
Millions of Americans go to the Internet for health-related information, but people who use it to self-diagnose and self-medicate may be putting themselves at risk. Only your physician has the necessary experience and medical training to diagnose and treat medical conditions. If you have questions, trust your physician, not a chat room.
I think that it could’ve been written better, but that this is still good advice today. There’s nothing wrong with a patient doing research with reliable online sources and having that research inform the patient’s communication with healthcare providers, but trusting advice from a chat room over advice from your doctor is, without question, unwise.
I do not believe and have not said that:
- Doctors are always right (Dr. Haig, for example, is wrong on multiple levels)
- Patients should not seek information outside their relationship with their doctors (I have a post category for consumer health information with a sizeable number of posts)
- Patients should not seek information on the internet (see this post about the use of the term “cyberchondriac” in the mainstream media)
- Patient support groups are without value (though they’re probably not as good for patients as they could be if they’re run by pharma companies)
There is no question that when one is facing illness (especially severe illness), it makes sense to seek information from any insightful source, including other patients. Some of the information available from other patients is nuts-and-bolts practical
But some patient-generated sources just stink (examples include iMedix and MamaHerb), and no amount of personal belief in the concept of the “wisdom of crowds” will change that. The AMA was right in 2001 (and would still be right today) that no online resource “can replace a physician’s experience and training.” They were (and remain) right to warn against trusting a chatroom over one’s physician. Self-diagnosing and self-medicating can and do cause harm (ask any emergency room healthcare professional).
Gilles, no bright physician is trying to “do to alone.” Every physician I know who has expressed skepticism about the efficacy and safety of online health information has done so out of concern of what is best for her/his patients. I don’t doubt that there exist shabby physicians who have knee-jerk reactions based primarily on fear about their place in a rapidly changing healthcare market, but I believe those are the exception- not the rule. Scolding physicians with unsupportable hyperbole (or making non-analogous comparisons of the AMA to the RIAA) will not prove an effective way to convince them of anything.