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Why I refuse to sacrifice your vision because Google said so…

Dear Patient,

As a doctor of eyes for over 10 years, I am taking this opportunity for the first time to acknowledge that the internet has got certain things right.  Facebook, YouTube, even Google itself as a search engine is phenomenal.  Despite your best intentions as my patient, and meticulous searches to uncover the cause of your symptoms, both you and google fall unequivocally short of my 8 years of post-secondary education, 2 years of fellowship training and almost 12 years of clinical practice. Fact. This isn't to brag but rather a wake-up call to the reasoning behind seeing a professional. 

A survey of more than 3,000 participants revealed that one in three U.S. adults (and almost half of college-educated adults) turn to the Internet as a diagnostic tool for themselves or someone else, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reported in 2013. For 46% of those surveyed, what they discovered online led them to believe that they needed the attention of a doctor or other medical professional. Of those who visited a clinician, 41% received confirmation of their suspicions.  While that number may seem to be pretty impressive, consider the almost 60% who were misdiagnosed and chanced their well-being, and potentially lives, on the advice of the internet without so much as the counsel of a human being? (Kreimer, S - Medical Economics April 2015).  Let me be clear - do your research, but be balanced. 

Now I will acknowledge that it is responsible for you, my patient, to research and understand what ails you (click here to read satirical article on the same subject). This is the 21st century and knowledge is power – provided the knowledge is trustworthy.  And while I do what I can to educate you as my patient on as much as possible and provide you with updated information on eye health, technology and treatments, I cannot undo a ‘bad internet search.’  Interestingly I’m still tasked with the challenge of undoing the damage caused by the misinformation that told you to put a teabag on your swollen red eye, because ‘you have conjunctivitis’ as diagnosed by Dr. Google.  Little do you know that there are many types of conjunctivitis and that a dirty teabag and heat can turn some of those types into raging infection of the entire eye that won’t respond to my first, second or third line of treatment in office and that may have already started to scar.  Again, knowledge is indeed power.

The reason for this post is because I am seeing a growing number of mistreated eye injuries, infections and ocular conditions as well as poor visual correction by online glasses or contacts. The growing reliance on the internet as a first line of Do-It-Yourself health care is becoming dangerous. You deserve to receive the optimal professional care.  I encourage you to not take your health lightly and not to treat it with the same approach as a DIY project on how to fix a leaky faucet. If this post offends you, I will not do the typical Canadian thing and apologize.  Be offended, but at least be informed.  And for those that claim this is a self-serving message, you’re right – however in the balance of who benefits more from seeking out health care from a professional the doctor or the patient - I assure you, the patient always wins.  I took an oath.  Last I checked Dr. Google did not.

In good health, 

Dr. M

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