Once upon a time, remember how medical information was mysterious, hospitals were places where frightening, inscrutable things happened, diseases were strange maladies that struck without reason, and obtaining information about health was like hunting for buried treasure? The full extent of many peoples' understanding of health came through relatively anemic sources like Readers' Digest. (Remember "I am Joe's Colon"?)

Compare this to what we have now. If I wanted to obtain information about ankylosing spondylitis (a rare genetic disease of the spine), a Google search yields 1.46 million citations. Not all the information, of course, is helpful or relevant, but there's certain to be a bounty of information that far exceeds what you could have uncovered 40 years ago.

Suppose you enter the search phrase "antithrombin III" into your Google search. Citations: over 900,000. (The number of search citations, in fact, exceeds the number of Americans with a deficiency of this blood clotting protein!)

The same is true with heart disease. There was a time, not more than 30-40 years ago, when information about the heart and heart disease was hard to come by. The most you would find were superficial discussions about heart attacks, what chest pain means, descriptions of bypass surgery. Ask your doctor, you'd likely receive a brief, cursory response about how you probably shouldn't worry it.

Even during medical school in the 1980s, I remember struggling to get answers to my questions from faculty during medical school and medical training. It was as if providing too much information would eliminate the advantage superiors wielded over trainees.

The same selfish sentiment, the "I know something you don't know" mentality reminiscent of a schoolboy's "naa na na naa naa!" unfortunately persists. But it is rapidly disintegrating. Soon it will join the junk heap of medical mis-information accumulated over the years (a big pile, to be sure). The internet and, I'll admit (grudgingly), the media, have been responsible for demystifying the formerly mysterious and indecipherable world of health.

You now have, at a moment's disposal, access to an extraordinary array and breadth of health information that was inconceivable just a few years ago.

Times are changing. Doctors no longer hold the monopoly over health information. The public--YOU--are rapidly becoming the arbiters of health, the informed consumers of a soon-to-be retail product called health care, and the increasingly savvy judges of what should join the mainstream path of health. It is all part of this wave of change that I've been advocating: the emerging concept of self-empowerment in healthcare.

Added to the junk heap of health-mistakes-of-years-past will be medical protectionism over health information, heart procedures, drug industry excesses, nutritional mis-information, among others. The demystification of health information will open the floodgates of individual insight into health. It delivers control over your own health destiny straight into your own lap.

Comments (2) -

  • Anonymous

    11/11/2007 1:52:00 AM |

    I wanted to make sure you're aware of Google Scholar.  It limits searches to journals and universities and such.  Helps weed out extraneous things!

    BTW:  I've got Ankylosing Spondylitis

  • Anonymous

    11/11/2007 6:16:00 AM |

    Back in '98, I was active with a group of parents of special needs children. One of the members child was hospitalized, and she met another parent at the hospital, whose child couldn't be diagnosed. The group member wrote down the undiagnosed child's symptoms and searched it on the net. She found something that had similar symptoms, printed it, and brought it to the hospital. The undiagnosed child's mother gave the printout to her child's doctor. The doctor made some calls about it, ordered some tests, and found out that it was indeed the diagnosis the group member had found.

    Another similar story from '98: a former coworker's baby had very extreme and 'conflicting' symptoms. The baby was at the Children's Hospital in a major, medially advanced city, yet they had NO idea what was wrong with him. One of the doctors on his team posted the baby's symptoms on an international rare conditions board for doctors. A doctor from India responded that she had "heard" of a similar condition while in med school, and responded with the name of the condition. After further testing, they confirmed the diagnosis.

    So I believe the net has been a great resource for people wanting to take charge of their own health issues.

    I've been reading preventative health articles online for as long as I've been on the net. I've had to wade through a lot of weird alternative stuff (some did make sense though, while others freaked me out). Eventually I found actual MDs that base their recommendations on published studies; I was very thrilled. But there's not that many that are willing to go against the 'system' (which is understandable, but those that do are very admirable, and we thank you!)