Here it goes again. Doctors are out of a job because of _____ (fill in the blank with antisepsis, antibiotics, vitamins, lasers, robots, etc). Now, it’s the Internet.
A recent newspaper article discussed that 60% of Americans and 70-90% of Europeans now seek health information online. Especially impressive is the number of older individuals, or “silver surfers” that find themselves there looking for help. With this powerful informational tool in their hands, the article raised the issue of whether empowered patients will make doctors extinct.
After reading the article, I wrote an Op-Ed piece to the paper, but never saw it published. Just to get it off my chest, I present it here:
Sir, Ms. Bird has absolutely hit the nail on the head when discussing the fact that today’s patients are truly educated consumers. In my men’s health practice, I routinely see patients who have the latest published paper on their condition tucked under their arms as they sit in front of me at the visit. Kudos to them! I am delighted that patients are informed and ready to “own” their healthcare–it is long overdue in the field of men’s health. Patient ownership of their health means that their best advocate (themselves) tags along at every visit like a loyal dog and helps them safely navigate within a super-specialized and highly fragmented health care system.
Although medically empowering, the Internet cannot provide two critical components of quality health care that will ensure the ongoing value of doctors in medicine: knowledge and wisdom.
The Internet is extremely informative but lacks the judgment necessary to distinguish wheat from chaff. Likewise, it lacks experience, the learning that accrues from seeing the same problem a thousand different ways, and a trait fundamental for quality decision-making in any profession.
We as doctors cannot possibly know all there is to know in a profession that doubles in informational size every decade. However, through rigorous training, experience, discipline and focus, we can comfortably tread where even the best-informed patients have not considered, or cannot imagine, going alone.
In fact, medicine owes a great deal to the rise of the information age. Doctors can now “walk the walk” with patients in a truly informed partnership. And patients can better judge the quality and character of their providers as they make life-changing decisions about their health.
Paul Turek MD, FACS, FRSM