An old error is always more popular than a new truth. German Proverb
A friend of mine suddenly collapsed at work. He found that he was unable to get up, because his legs were feeling like jelly. An ambulance had to be called for, to rush him to a hospital. The doctor on duty diagnosed him as having Guillain–Barré Syndrome, a name we couldn’t even pronounce! Had this scenario happened a few years ago, we would have worried enormously as to whether the doctor was on the right track. Suppose his diagnosis was wrong? We would have been forced to blindly depend on his competence.
Technology to the rescueHowever, this being the 21st century, the patient’s daughter whipped out her smartphone and did a Google search on the disease. She was able to reassure her distraught mother that although Guillain–Barré Syndrome was a rare disease, most patients recover completely once it runs its course, and that the doctor was providing the right treatment. Instant relief- for both the patient and his family, and the doctor as well; because the patient’s trust in the doctor increased considerably after they had verified that his diagnosis made sense! There are many ways of accessing health-related information online. Many patients start by using search engines like Google and PubMed; others participate in online discussions started by patient health groups; while others post direct questions to doctors on their websites, blogs and social media accounts.
Internationally, websites of well-known pharmaceutical brands such as Lipitor and Allegra offer accurate, scientific information in a consumer-friendly language. On Facebook, there are reams of pages dedicated to common diseases such as diabetes and arthritis, many of which are managed by non-profit organizations and healthcare companies.
On Twitter, searching with a hashtag e.g. #diabetes, #cancer, #weightloss, #menopause can yield a wealth of information on various health aspects. On Pinterest one can follow the latest trends in healthcare through infographics and images. Websites such as Healthcaremagic. com, healthtap.com, and netdoctor.com offer an online consultation with a doctor for free, while others charge a nominal fee. However while discussing your symptoms and problems online through live chats, messages or emails with someone who is claiming to be a healthcare practitioner, please check the doctor’s credibility.
The queries on these forums are moderated by registered medical practitioners and their profile can easily be viewed on the website. Websites such as RateMD, MedeCure and DocSuggest provide a platform for patients to share their experiences with a doctor, and seek their opinion on other practitioners. From answering questions on portals to running their own blogs for educating patients, the internet enables doctors to improve their communication with patients.
Many pharmaceutical companies have teamed up with mobile app developers for creating smartphone applications. This includes apps such as diet trackers, symptom checkers, and baby vaccination reminders. For instance, MuSugr is a diabetes management application that not only helps a patient track their blood sugar levels, but also features interactive games to improve patient engagement.
Online support groupsThese are usually run by patients, and these virtual patient support groups can be very helpful. Reading other patient’s real life experiences helps you get a clearer understanding of what to expect during your journey, and expert patients will provide practical advice about treatment options, and how to guard against goof-ups. They can share some of the glitches and hurdles they have encountered, and learning how they overcame them can help you to protect yourself during your journey.
You can choose to remain anonymous, so you feel secure. These forums also allow you to compare notes on resources, such as doctors and alternative options. Many patients find the advice here much more trustworthy than what they get from their doctors, because it is unbiased, and provided without a commercial agenda. However, not all support groups are above board, so you do need to be careful!
Being able to talk openly and honestly about your emotions when you feel your doctor has made an error reduces distress and anxiety, because you now have a safe platform where you can vent, and you don’t need to bottle up your angst. You will be able to find online friends, who can counsel and support you, and will help you cope better.