An editorial at WSJ.com – The Doctor’s Office – notes that just about every medical condition has its own web community. The author, Benjamin Brewer, is a physician who finds that a portion of his patients go too far with their web research. These patients look up symptoms, read about rare conditions, and then demand experimental or incorrect medications.
Brewer acknowledges the value of patients becoming better informed about their condition, but wishes they would avoid self-diagnosis and potentially dangerous self-medication using offshore pharmacies. He notes that many conditions have similar symptoms, and that it may take a skilled diagnostician to determine the exact cause of those symptoms.
Those of us who participate in web communities know there are always some members who are filled with confidence, eager to offer advice, and completely incorrect. While in most communities such individuals can be ignored, in a health community they cold pose a serious risk to new or less discriminating members.
Years ago, a standard business maxim was that your boss found the guy he sat next to on his last airplane flight more credible than you. It seems that there’s a new version today: Brewer laments that his patients seem to find random Internet advice more plausible than his own.