The Internet Patient

October 7, 2011

It's 2:00 a.m. on a Friday. Your doctor is home in bed, where the rest of the world should be. But not you...you're online wondering whether this stomachache you have is life threatening or just a bad reaction to the steak you had at dinner. So where do you go? Do you rush to the hospital to wait 3 hrs. in the ER to be told to "go home and call your doctor," for the "small fee" of $1000 or so?

 

It's 2:00 a.m. on a Friday. Your doctor is home in bed, where the rest of the world should be. But not you...you're online wondering whether this stomachache you have is life threatening or just a bad reaction to the steak you had at dinner. So where do you go? Do you rush to the hospital to wait 3 hrs. in the ER to be told to "go home and call your doctor," for the "small fee" of $1000 or so? No, of course not - you do what every other technologically-savvy patient does - you log on to the computer to get input from the online medical community.

Now...you might be wondering: "How can the internet possibly help me get medical care?!" Well, it doesn't - directly, that is. But it can get you advice, knowledge about a condition, answers to questions you may have at odd hours from physicians who staff various online health forums, and support of those who share your symptoms.

Being an "internet patient" can afford you access to all kinds of professionals at any given time; there are forums, like The Women's Health Forum, MAKE IT LIVE at OBGYN.net. in depth web sites where you can make inquiries of the professionals, and chats at all different dates andtimes. And of course, there are numerous online support groups you can post to and share your story with other members who understand and may have "been there, done that". Online access to medical information can help you select and find a doctor. What kind of doctor should you be looking for? Has anyone else been to see that doctor? What was the outcome? Patient testimonials and references are the best advertisements a doctor or surgeon can have. Insight from other patients is invaluable. These resources that are available to you can also help you "interview" a potential doctor once you've chosen them; others can offer you kinds or questions you should be asking and what you should be looking for in a patient/doctor relationship.

Making sure you are informed about your own condition can save you money and time and perhaps even needless worrying about an aspect of your condition. It can also help you to have effective visits with your physician when you do see him or her - discussions can be in depth and knowledgeable, since you are armed with all the information you've come across. Both sides can walk away from the office appointment feeling as though it was time well spent.

My own personal experience is a success story reflective of this concept. Prior to coming online and finding a vast wealth of information at my fingertips, I spent years being treated ineffectively in unsatisfactory relationships with numerous doctors for my disease, Endometriosis. I never felt that I was being given the most information that was available on Endometriosis nor were the methods of treatment I was receiving effective. I always left my doctor's offices feeling like, "there goes another wasted co payment." I would visit libraries and bookstores and read everything I could get my hands on about Endo, but no one was recommending any doctors to me or telling me how to speak to the ones I had "properly"...there was also no one else on earth as far as I was concerned that had the disease.

Was I ever mistaken! When I started searching online about Endo, I was amazed. I found site after site by doctors and individuals who helped me learn more about it and how to deal with it. I gained empowerment through the knowledge I was able to access, and even better, participated in several online support groups with many others who understood just what it was like to live with a chronic, painful disease. With the help of the support groups and my own searching, I found several doctors who truly dedicate their time and efforts to the treatment of Endo specifically, and do so successfully and with great care for their patients.

I learned what to look for in a doctor, what questions to ask, what new methods of treatment were available, and how to cope. Armed with that knowledge, I selected one of the experts I had come across who has an excellent reputation in the Endo community, and with that, set off for my surgery with him.

It was the only successful surgery I ever had.

I came away from the whole experience feeling that I had done all I could do at that point and was satisfied with my relationship with the doctor and with my treatment as a whole. I no longer felt that I was alone or that I was in no way a partner in my own health care...I had taken control, become informed, and gotten results.

No, the internet will never replace an office visit or a personal conversation with your doctor. But it can be a starting point in helping you take control over your own medical situation and learn as much as you can about the condition, find the doctor who treats it, how to have effective conversations with that doctor, and how to be a partner in your treatment. An educated patient is an empowered patient - and that's the best kind of patient to be!