Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Doctor Says What? How an "M.D." After One's Name Doesn't Necessarily Mean "Infallible."

My Thesaurus Thursday this week was a sort of sneak preview to my post today.  Like so many others, when I get sick or start to feel like something isn't quite "right" with my body, I tend to look online before heading to the doctor's office.  Unlike many people who do this though, I generally look up symptoms so that I can have a list of questions to ask my GP "in case of an emergency situation."  I generally don't panic and think I have some rare disease each time I get a cold with a few symptoms I don't usually experience.  I like to think that I'm savvy enough to know when the advice and information given online is factual and when it's complete nonsense, but nowadays it's very hard to tell.

... Words don't even describe how upset this article makes me. 
It doesn't even deserve a picture.

Most people with a throbbing headache on one side of their forehead have migraines, but type in the symptom, and you'll get millions of people asking "Do I have a brain tumor?" or "Am I having an aneurysm?"  I've found that doctors who answer questions online are not really helping the, for lack of a better description, hypochondriac culture that prevails on the internet.  And when something serious could be going on, but it's not within their expertise, they usually say, "This is generally not an issue," or go on to explain something that they do know, often insensitively and without regard for the feelings of the questioner.  

"Yeah, sure it'll hurt.  Not as much as getting the baby out, though, so tough noogies."

An example I found: one poor woman was told by her doctor that she had an STI when they tested her for a certain type of bacteria.  Her rambling question conjured up pictures of a young woman nearly in tears and on the verge of a breakdown because she was so certain both she and her husband had been faithful and had never been with anyone else before they met, and could she have gotten this any other way? The online doctor responded by saying that STI's are only spread through sexual activities, so either she or her husband must have contracted it, trying to "soften the blow" by saying "perhaps before the marriage."  After doing some research myself (and talking to a couple of my own doctors about it to make sure that I was on the right track), it became apparent that this type of bacteria is often spread through sexual activities but is not even a "true" STI, as it can also be passed by innocent skin-to-skin contact with a carrier or inhalation of the bacteria, such as when a carrier sneezes.  It can also pass through the placenta during prenatal development, so you can be born with it.  

So this "doctor" has now needlessly put it into this woman's head that she or her husband has either cheated or lied.  He ought to have done the research himself- she told him the bacteria- and reassured her that no, it could happen to anyone and is easily treatable.  "First do no harm" seems to go out the window when doctors start answering questions online.  I have seen doctors say that clearly life-disrupting symptoms are all in a patient's head (ever hear of tact?), that 1300 calories a day is a normal intake for a healthy woman, that you can't have PCOS unless you carry excess weight around your midsection, and make various other ridiculous claims, and they all have the letters "M.D." "Ph.D.", "RN" etc. after their names.  

So please, doctors on the internet, if you are going to be no more helpful than the people who answer questions on Yahoo! Answers who go around telling poor unsuspecting people that getting a common UTI is a sure sign that your partner is cheating on you, please get off the internet.  There are plenty of reputable doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, and other health professionals out there who would be ashamed. 

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