The Future of Do-It-Yourself Medicine

Why see a doctor if you can Google your symptoms anyway? Shucks, you can tile your bathroom, build a deck or even add a floor to your house using Home Depot. Resources for everything you can think, or do, are available on the world-wide-web. Don’t believe me? Just check out the innumerable “For Dummies” books online.

Needed Nugget

I have to say that I understand where you’re coming from. Western medicine is more “reactive” or “defensive” than it is “preventative” in nature. Our “pill for every ill” culture simply doesn’t cut it for you anymore. And doctors are hard to reach, talk to you in tongues, are poor listeners, and only have 11 minutes of time with you. Meanwhile, you are in possession of a well honed, hybrid information seeking strategy that rapidly sifts through and properly evaluates reams of online content, getting the nugget you need in no time. So why not apply your vast “content curator” skills to help you stay healthy?

Here Take This

Well, because good medicine is much more than just content. It’s also seriously experiential. Just watch the first couple of episodes of Grey’s Anatomy in which young, newly minted interns are let loose in the hospital and you’ll see what I mean. Just because you know the vocabulary doesn’t mean that you can speak the language, think productively or problem solve.
One example of this is the ability of a good surgeon to stand in the doorway of a room, and by simply observing the patient’s countenance and demeanor, be able to distinguish kidney stones from appendicitis. Hard to duplicate this feat with sophisticated pattern recognition software.
I also remember when I trained young surgeons and they would call me in the middle of the night and say: “I’d like you to come see Mr. Smith in the ICU. Although his labs look great, something isn’t right.” I would always head straight to the hospital, feeling tired but proud that that new surgeon clearly understood the true value of the “eyeball test” in medicine. Like happiness, creativity or wisdom, some things are hard to measure, but you know it when you see it.

A Working Prescription

So, here’s how to get the most out of what medical providers offer:

  • Research providers wisely. Just like shopping for a widget, here’s where your curator skills have great value. Credentials, expertise and experience can all be evaluated on line.
  • Find providers who empower and enable. Your goal is to help you to help yourself and not to depend on them. Look for the teacher in your provider.
  • Realize that providers are people too. We’re not all the same. Find karma and a good personality fit. Some doctors actually like patients and their stories.
  • Trust your gut. Like any relationship, both sides have needs. Examine the interaction. Sometimes all needs are seamlessly met.
  • Ask questions; get answers. Providers are consultants who inform your health care decisions. Use email, care extenders, handouts, physician websites or telehealth to find the answers you need.
  • Eschew patronizing providers. Old school statements such as “Here’s what you should do…” presented without good evidence or reasoning, are kind of like avocado colored stoves…way out of style.

There’s a heap of knowledge and loads of wisdom in the world of medicine today. The problem is that most of it will never be found on a Google search. Indeed, as an older Senegalese doctor once told me: “The best medicine for man is man.”