How to Talk to Your Doctor About Online Medical Information

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It’s a well known fact that I hold a certain disdain for the medical field. It’s not that I think that doctors are bad people, I just think that the medical system as a whole is still achingly behind the times in terms of customer service and its embrace of technology. As a curious, neurotic, moderately intelligent gal, I have a tendency to desire in depth knowledge of my conditions, medications, and treatments. This also means that I don’t simply rely on my doctors to do the leg work. Although I hope that my doctors think about me and my weird brain thing outside of the examination room, the chances are slim.

So how do we break the ice, so to speak, when we want to bring up information we’ve discovered online? The internet is a wellspring of verifiable medical information from peer-reviewed studies to foundations for specific conditions that keep statistical data on treatment success rates. The internet is also full of a lot of crap, and our doctors know it. Therefore, we have to take it upon ourselves to approach our doctors with a certain amount of care.

Here is your official, My Brain Hates Me guide to talking to your doctor about information you find online:

  1. Use verifiable sources. It’s not really that hard and it’s a habit to build starting from this moment. Start with your condition and look for any foundations. Does the website have a .org .edu. or .net in the URL? Wikipedia and .coms are great as starting points, but only as starting points. The reference section at the bottom of Wikipedia entries should be your go to. Another quick trick is to use Google Scholar when performing internet searches. You’ll gain access to those peer-reviewed studies and papers I was talking about… information published in medical journals by doctors and scientists and researchers. Doctors love that stuff.
  2. Take information with you to your appointment. They’ve been telling us to take a list of questions to our medical appointments for years. Don’t just write down random facts. Either cite your information, or print the information and highlight the facts you wish to discuss with your doctor. This later tactic is more effective because you can leave a copy with your doctor, they can put it in your file, and they can take time to look at the information before your next appointment.
  3. Better yet, send your doctor the information prior to your appointment, or schedule a follow up to specifically discuss information. When you have a medical appointment, it is scheduled for a specific amount of time to accomplish certain things. When your appointment runs long, it backs up the entire office for the day. This is why we have to sit in waiting rooms so long. Let’s stop the insanity, as Susan Powder would say, and be courteous to other patients by doing what we’re scheduled to to in our appointments. If you can e-mail or drop off information you’d like to discuss with your doctor ahead of time, it makes things smoother. It also makes them feel like they aren’t bombarded. If you schedule an appointment to for the sole purpose of discussing information you’ve found, all the better.
  4. Bring up information tactfully. So you’ve printed your verifiable information out, you’ve scheduled your special appointment to talk about it. How do you actually talk about it? The goal is not to make your doctor feel like your trying to prove them wrong or go behind their back. I know that you’re paying your doctor and you shouldn’t have to worry about their feelings, but your relationship with your doctor needs to be a partnership. You need to trust them, and they need to trust you. You trust them to give you accurate care. They trust you to follow their care instructions. Get it? Good. So don’t mess that up by being a jerk about new research you’ve found. Instead, approach it tactfully. Saying things like, “I’m interested in this new research because it seems similar to my condition and I’d like to get your thoughts,” or “the medication/treatment they talk about in this medical journal article sounds promising, is this something that could work for me?” will allow your doctor to weigh in on the information. It’s teamwork. Yes, doctors should provide good customer service, but you should also be a decent customer. It’s your health, after all, and you need to take some ownership.
  5. Handle rejection graciously. You might be really excited about the information you found online. If your doctor isn’t as excited as you are, or if your doctor tells you that the information you found doesn’t apply to your case, it can feel like rejection. Listen to your doctor, but also feel free to ask them why it doesn’t apply to your case. Don’t be combative. Don’t argue. Just make sure you have an explanation that you understand. And, remember, if you wholeheartedly believe that your doctor isn’t giving you proper care… there are other doctors out there. And there is never harm in asking your doctor if a treatment is something worth trying, even if it doesn’t necessarily apply directly to your condition.
  6. Handle acceptance graciously. The same advice goes if your doctor embraces the information you’ve provided. This is not an “I told you so” situation. Teamwork, remember. Think of this as a great chance to bond with your doctor and build stronger trust. You trust that they will listen, and they trust that you are taking your care seriously and not wasting their time. Win win.

I absolutely encourage you to be knowledgeable about your condition. I encourage you to use online information and books and support groups. I encourage you to share this information with your doctor. I shouldn’t have to say that your doctor has a skewed perception of reality due to the nature of their work, but I do. Doctors hold themselves apart from their patients and above their patients. They have to to emotionally protect themselves and to do their jobs well. The cost of this is that ego can cloud a doctor’s listening skills. You deserve good medical care and a doctor who will listen. If you don’t feel like you have that, speak up, or make an appointment elsewhere.

I made a video a long time ago about doctors… here it is, in case you need a refresher:

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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