HEALTH & WELLNESS Middle Age Maladies recent-post2  >  Five Clicks to Cancer – A Hypochondriac’s Guide to the Internet

Five Clicks to Cancer – A Hypochondriac’s Guide to the Internet

Five Clicks to Cancer – A Hypochondriac’s Guide to the Internet
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By Jill Matlow

You wake up with a new ache or pain. Where do you go? Do you head to your physician’s office?

Of course you don’t! If you’re like me, you head right over to … your computer!

Let the googling begin!

MayoClinic.org, WebMD.com, MedicineNet.com – so many sites to choose from. What about those sites with a photo of a friendly-looking physician who pop ups asking you to type your question (healthcaremagic.com)? You think you’re getting free advice until the credit card page flashes. Don’t fall into that trap!

If you’ve mastered the googling technique like me, within five minutes you should wind up with a worse case scenario of the symptoms you’ve been experiencing. This happens before you’ve even taken the steps to schedule your appointment with your trained physician, who incidentally went to medical school. Because chances are, you didn’t.

And as if worrying about the requisite screenings at our age –  colonoscopies, mammograms, stress tests, bone density and skin cancer screenings – isn’t enough, we can now obsess about new aches and pains in between those tests.

Take it from someone who knows that knowledge is power (but in this case, is ignorance bliss?). There is just way too much misinformation on the internet to start going down that path of self-diagnosis.

My grandmother Lilli, who lived until the age of 95, once gave me sage advice: “99% of the things you worry about never come to fruition”. (Hey wait a minute, does that mean I’m in the 1%? Is that what that expression means?)

But Lilli’s advice was dispensed before the internet was invented. So much for not worrying.

There are definitely exceptions to this googling rule. When it comes to pharmaceuticals your physicians prescribe, do your due diligence. Physicians seem to be in a mad rush these days to write out a script and move on to their waiting rooms full of patients.

Remember – you need to be your own patient advocate when it comes to your treatment options.

Case in point – a few years ago, I was prescribed an antibiotic which I had taken on and off for a few months. Through a routine blood test taken during my annual physical, my physician noticed that my liver enzymes were very elevated, which is the first sign that your liver has been damaged or injured.  Had I been more diligent with my research of this drug, I would have discovered that liver toxicity is one of the rare side effects of this particular antibiotic. I then could have insisted that my physician monitor my blood work every few months.

Yes, they should have known better, but many times physicians don’t.  Or there is a breakdown in communication between the physician and the pharmacist. Fortunately, the liver has a wonderful way of regenerating and I was very lucky.

News flash: physicians unfortunately make mistakes. They’re human.

Here’s another example:  Years ago after my first baseline stress test, another one of my physicians informed me that my results showed that there might be a slight blockage in my heart. I didn’t even bother to question my internist (who was board certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiology) when she suggested that I get a nuclear stress test which involved injecting a small amount of radioactive tracer into my veins, where images of my heart were then taken.

It was only months later that I found out from my insurance company that my physician had used a diagnosis code for diabetes to justify ordering this expensive test. I am not diabetic. Some googling and perhaps a second opinion would have served me well back then.

Live and learn.

I have recently switched all my physicians to be under one umbrella – NYU Langone. They have an electronic medical record system whereby patient files are retrieved through a system called “MyChart” (accessible via password).

Why is this so efficient?

Using this system, you can schedule appointments, view test results, list allergies, immunizations, prescriptions, health trends etc.  You can also email your physician. This automated system is one way to ensure that all your physicians have access to the same medical information about you.  Everyone is then on the same page.

In this internet age, physicians are accustomed to their patients coming in with their own diagnoses.  If you still can’t resist the temptation to google your symptoms (and I know, because I’m guilty of this and will probably never stop this habit) try to stick to the sources that are reliable and well-respected in the medical community. I have always found that the Mayoclinic.org gives sound advice.

Come prepared with a list of questions to make the most of your limited time with your physician, and try to refrain from offering up a diagnosis based on your internet research.  Does your physician tell you how to do your job?

All this typing is making my wrists a little sore. Do you think I have carpal tunnel syndrome? I might have to google my symptoms…

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