dave debronkart serves as volunteer co-chair of the society for
participatory Medicine (
http://e-patients.net) and is the author of
Laugh,;Sing,;and;Eat;Like;a;Pig (changing outlook, 2010).
mAY debAte reSULtS:
Should literary classics
It’s Been saId that 70 to 80 percent of healthcare is self-care. But when
healthcare turns to medical care—when disease arrives—it requires information
most of us don’t have. today, ordinary people can find information online that
they could never reach before. so smart Web users are increasingly becoming
e-patients: empowered, engaged, equipped and enabled.
I’d never heard of e-patients when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer, but I was one: I used the
Internet in every way possible to help my case, in partnership with my doctors. How did they react?
they appreciated it. my primary physician even suggested I join a patient community on the
association of cancer online resources website (
recent reports from susannah fox at the pew research center’s Internet & american Life project
say that 80 percent of online adults ( 61 percent of americans) turn to the Web for health advice and
information, and one in four chronic-disease patients go online to find others like themselves. It makes
sense: We go online to learn about far less important things, so it’s natural to do so when a family
member’s health is at stake.
clearly, people are learning to find what they need online. the problem is, how do you filter the
gold from the garbage?
answer: turn to professionals. (pew says the most trusted resource for reliable health info is the
professional.) this suggests that “paging dr. Google” doesn’t replace professionals, it supplements them.
the January 12, 2011, issue of Time magazine gives a great example: dr. Zachary meisel wrote of
a patient with a rash, whose Internet printouts helped him reach the correct diagnosis sooner. Yes,
a patient helped her doctor.
Beware, though: not everyone online is trustworthy; some anti-vaccine bloggers persist in their beliefs,
even though all the anti-vaccine research has been refuted as fraudulent by almost everyone involved.
so yes, feel free to research your family’s health—after all, whose health is it? Just be smart about it,
the same as with anything you do online. Inform yourself, think and verify: never trust just one type
of source. C
Percentage reflects votes
received by May 16, 2011.
APriL debAte reSULtS:
Is college worth it?
YeS: 66% no: 34%
Percentage reflects votes received by
April 30, 2011. Results may reflect
Debate being picked up by blogs.
from an expert in the field:
Judy Segal is professor of english at the university of British
columbia, and author of Health;and;the;Rhetoric;of;Medicine
(southern illinois university press, 2005).
Informed patIents can help improve a healthcare system that many
agree has placed too much power in the hands of physicians. But we must use
Internet sources for health information judiciously—and defensively.
the Internet user’s first responsibility is to learn which websites are the most
trustworthy. sometimes the answer is obvious: the mayo clinic site will give
you more reliable, evidence-based information about the flu than the blogs of flu sufferers trying out
novel treatments. But the reliability question does not always have an obvious answer. some patient-
based websites (e.g., patientsLikeme.com) are excellent sources of information about the experiences of
patients with complex medical conditions.
meanwhile, some sites that at first seem to be simply informative are advancing the agenda of a
commercial enterprise. for example, depression.com, despite its innocent-sounding domain name, is
anything but innocent. a few clicks will take you to a description of depression as a neurochemical dis-
order that might respond well to medication. the makers of the antidepressants paxil and Wellbutrin
sponsor the site.
source reliability isn’t the only thing that Web users have to be careful about. some symptom
checkers ( Webmd.com) are often more alarming than empowering; online consultations with
unknown “experts” ( Justanswer.com) can lengthen, rather than shorten, the process of finding answers
to medical questions. and the fact is that even good information isn’t helpful if you don’t know how to
interpret it or how to use it for good decision-making. a study done for microsoft in 2008 demon-
strated that online health-information seekers tend to “catastrophize”: a person Googling “headache” is
more likely to follow links to “brain tumor” than to “sinus infection.”
We should be informed about health maintenance and illness prevention, and we should learn as
much as we can about our own chronic conditions. there is little advantage, though, in terrifying our-
selves with rushed self-diagnoses of dread diseases. Internet health is here to stay. some doctors already
hand patients lists of UrLs in reply to stacks of printouts. for now, it’s best to avoid what happens when
patient blogs, sponsored sites, symptom checkers and disembodied advisers conspire with our imagina-
tions to produce “cyberchondria.” C
Opinions expressed are those of the
individuals or organizations represented and
are presented to foster discussion.
Costco and The;Costco;Connection take no
position on any Debate topic.