Why do Mothers ask strangers in Facebook Mom Groups when they could waste everyone’s time & visit the office of a Doctor who doesn’t even know why they’re there?

“I am left wondering: Why are people so deathly afraid of talking to their primary care providers? Why are they willing to risk receiving downright dangerous medical advice from the internet? Why is it, that despite our best efforts, we are failing our patients? It’s a moment of introspection, as I’m explaining that since stomach acid is a buffered system, drinking “3 cups per day of grape juice” (I’m not even joking) does not appreciably change the pH of stomach acid. I think of all the gaps in communication that occur when I’m sitting in doctor’s appointments with my parents. In my mind’s eye, I see that look on my mother’s face when she does not understand a piece of medical jargon, but thinks she should, and nods along. I look back on all the times that I’ve skipped over an explanation of a pharmacologic mechanism to a patient, then received a phone call two days later asking something along the lines of why taking double the dose of a medication isn’t “twice as good.” Or, even worse, there are the times that they feel so alienated by us that they run to an anonymous internet forum for urgent medical advice. Seeing the questions of these women, and the rather alarming answers, is a portal into everything that our patients are afraid to ask us. For me, it is a wake-up call to go beyond the standard explanations with my patients. It is a tangible reminder to try to bridge that often-invisible gap of understanding”

I found this article by Neurologist Audrey Nath fascinating because a lot of medics tell me privately that they have struggled with feelings of guilt when they go “snooping” about on the internet to try and learn more about their Patients so that they are better placed to understand and help them. While corporations and charities with their focus on profits seemingly don’t give a second thought to the privacy issues most Doctors seem to be very uncertain about the legalities of activities like this and will often admit to using some basic techniques to try and remain undetected (eg. by trying to use Private or Incognito mode on their browser etc).

The surprise that Dr Nath has about the behaviour being observed astounds me. How is it hard to understand when we all know that most Patients don’t have access to the Electronic Healthcare Record, most interactions with Doctors are still pretty much undocumented stranger visits and most Patients/Carers have never been given a website or video by a Doctor (Note: Finding information on the internet is completely different from being given that exact same information by your Doctor).

Note: All the evidence suggests Patients are more than happy to share information when Doctors make themselves available & let Patients ask and answer questions online in their own time.

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About David Doherty

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