Dr. Google and the Cyberchondriacs

Remember where you were when JFK was shot? How about when the Shuttle Challenger blew up? These are the kinds of shared moments that change everyone's life. Here's a little moment that you won't remember, but I do, because it changed my professional life.

I was working in emerg one evening when I saw a woman with asthma that she said had been getting progressively worse in the last few days. I thought her asthma was severe enough that she needed to take Prednisone. But when I handed her the prescription she said, " I thought Prednisone was a level C risk factor in pregnancy?"

That certainly got my attention. I asked if she was a physician. "No," she said. " I read about it on the Internet."

A bell clanged in my head. It was a little bit like discovering I could walk instead of crawl. Things would never be the same. And they haven't. Not a shift goes by in which someone doesn't challenge my usual medical spiel or second guess my decisions because of something they've looked up on the internet before coming in.

For family docs, the experience is more intense. Their appointments are scheduled. That gives you more time to assemble a sheaf of reports culled from cyberspace.

I think a lot of doctors don't like the fact that the internet levels the playing field just a bit. Just remember, there's knowledge that helps and knowledge that just gets in the way.

On this week's White Coat, Black Art, we've invited two cyberchondriacs to see if they can take the symptoms I gave them last week on another CBC show
Spark and make a diagnosis that a real doctor (aka CBC Health Columnist Dr. Peter Lin) would make. Do you always check out how you're feeling with Dr. Google before consulting your own doctor? Tell me about it.

In the meantime, if you're going to go to the internet to check out your aches and pains, here are some credible sites that doctors sometimes also rely on to make their diagnoses. Happy cyber-sleuthing!

Public Health Agency of Canada


emedicine This one is solid gold for physicians on the fly. If I'm in a hurry and in need of a quick fix of medical info, I Google the disease I'm checking out and (+) emedicine. This web site is written in medical technobabble, but it takes you to peer reviewed articles presented in an easy-to-read format and regularly updated.

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