Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Are You A Doctient?

A couple of days ago, I was at a health fair speaking to prospective patients about MDPrevent. During the course of the day, a young senior woman walked by and I tried to discuss our program. Whatever I said to her was responded to by sarcastic facial expressions. She claimed that she was well versed in wellness and supplement usage and rattled off an alphabet list of different supplements she was using including boron, calcium, magnesium, etc.  As she walked away, I thought to myself that there is truly a new kind of patient today which I will now forever call a Doctient, the word created by blending the words doctor and patient.

When I was in medical school in the early 1980s, we were taught that patients absolutely must own their health care and be active participants in approving any treatment. We even were shown a video in which a patient slugs a nurse trying to add a drug into her intravenous line after asking th nurse not to do so and were dutifully informed that the patient was right to do so because the drug was the wrong medication and would have harmed her.  Accordingly, I have always believed in patients taking an active role in their care.

Yet, in the past 15 years, with the meteoric rise of internet usage, and the immediate access it provides to almost unlimited medical information, good and bad, patients have become more empowered than ever about their health care.  In general, I think that's a good thing. Still, I am afraid because I find much of the medical information available on the internet to be superficial, confusing, incomplete, alarming, and most importantly, often inappropriate for the specific patient. I read that a study showed that Wikipedia was accurate 98% of the time in relation to health information. That's great, but how do you know when you are reading the other 2%? 

If patients use their internet and book found knowledge in conjunction with a medical consultation, I think the truth can be determined and the best course of action achieved. But when patients solely rely on information they gather on their own from various sources, they are playing with fire. Fire in this case may be life-threatening.

An article on Yahoo the other day attacked artificial sweeteners in soft drinks as potentially harmful while lauding regular soft drinks as healthier. Really? Soft drinks made of mostly added sugars, chemicals, and artificial colors are superior to diet drinks? That's news to me. Neither is good, but there's no defensible position to argue that soft drinks are healthy, relative to anything edible. We all know we can't believe everything we read, but it's really hard sometimes to ignore the written word when it includes known facts mixed in with conjecture, hyperbole, and misinformation.

So if you are a Doctient, that's great, because understanding you health is important. But don't be a Doctient in a vacuum. It's often been said that a doctor who treats herself has a fool for a patient.  Here's my new adage. A patient who treats himself has a fool for a doctor. Be knowledgeable about your health but don't get overly confidant. As I quoted Mark Twain in a previous blog, "It ain't what you know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that does."

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