The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 15, 2013

Caught in a Web of virtual medicine

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Those who strive to become physicians know they face a long, difficult and costly journey.

First they must take as many advanced math and science classes as possible in high school. Then they must be accepted to a college or university with a strong science or pre-med program.

Then, as their undergraduate days draw to a close, they must take and pass the Medical College Aptitude Test.

A high enough MCAT score, plus a strong undergraduate transcript, are necessary for acceptance into medical school.

Med school takes about four years, followed by an internship and a residency.

So, from start to finish, it can take a prospective doc anywhere between 11 and 16 years to get to the point where they can take their state licensing exam.

So why is it we don’t trust our doctors?

We must not trust them. Otherwise, why would so many of us resort to consulting the Internet to diagnose our ills?

The Pew Research Center recently released a study showing 35 percent of U.S. adults have gone online to self-diagnose a medical condition for themselves or someone else.

Fortunately, many of those online self-diagnosers reached the conclusion that they needed to see their doctors after researching their conditions.

However, 38 percent decided they could treat themselves at home.

There are any number of Web sites that contain medical information, not to mention smartphone apps.

Go online, plug in your symptoms, and boom, you’ve got a diagnosis, with no muss, no fuss, no bills and no six-month old magazines in the waiting room.

Sometimes the results might even be correct. Forty one percent of those surveyed said their doctor confirmed the diagnosis they got off the Internet.

In baseball, hitting .410 is a number that will get you in the record books and the Hall of Fame. In medicine, not so much.

Medical care is expensive, and any way we can save ourselves money is welcome, but relying on the Internet might not be the best idea.

We only get one body. You can’t go to the used people dealership and trade yourself in for a newer model.

Taking care of this earthly shell is important, too important to trust to a medium dominated by cute kitty videos and the Kardashians.

The Internet also is where you can find a list of redneck medical terms, including benign, which is what you be after you be eight, and Caesarian section, which is a neighborhood in Rome.

However, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit I have consulted the Internet more than once to diagnose my health problems.

More often than not, I’ve scared myself silly in the process.

Many ailments share the same symptoms. After health-related Web searches, I have at various times been convinced that I suffer everything from malaria to root rot.

Not that medical information available on the Internet is all bad. Much of it is written by physicians. But it takes knowledge and experience to be able to interpret the information presented and to devise a proper treatment regimen.

For instance, if my car doesn’t start, I can determine that the condition is caused by one of any number of factors — a dead battery, a faulty starter and fouled sparked plugs among them — but that doesn’t mean I know how to fix the problem. All I know is that it won’t go.

A friend once called and said his dishwasher was not working, and asked me to come and take a look at it. I went over and, exhausting my extensive knowledge of electrical appliances, determined that, yes, it was indeed a dishwasher, and in my humble opinion, it certainly did not seem to be working.

In a moment of brilliant insight, I then asked if he had checked the breaker box.

Indeed, the breaker had been flipped. We turned it back on and the dishwasher worked perfectly. I felt like a genius.

I have decided to test the whole Internet diagnosis thing, by plugging in a few of my symptoms and seeing what comes up.

OK, I’ve put on some weight. I’ve had stomach pains, gas and some occasional nausea, fatigue, mood swings, headaches and back pain.

Put them all together and here comes my diagnosis.

Well, this is certainly disturbing and unexpected. This is going to require some soul-searching and some profound lifestyle changes.

My life will never be the same. But it is on the Internet, so it must be correct.

I’m pregnant.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.