Reporting Dr. Google

bone and joint health Nov 25, 2019

As an orthopaedic surgeon, I often will be asked by patients about remedies they read about on the internet. “But Google said…”.  Well, I’d like to report this Doctor Google to the medical board. 

Why?

1. Dr. Google hasn’t gone through the appropriate schooling or residency

The schooling it takes to become a physician is extensive. After high school, there’s typically 4 years of undergraduate education, followed by 4 years of medical school, then anywhere from 3 to 7 years more of medical residency. Many physicians undergo additional fellowship or subspecialty training, which can be a minimum of another year before even starting practice. If you do the math, at minimum it’s 11 years more of education after high school.

 

2. Dr. Google doesn’t make it easy to distinguish science and pseudoscience 

Jade eggs? Biofrequency healing stickers? Dr. Google lets them all in. Just because there’s a celebrity behind the “science” does not make it real science - in fact, it should heighten your radar for healthcare recommendations that are not necessarily sound. Consumer beware. 

 

3. Dr. Google doesn’t use peer-reviewed literature for recommendations 

What exactly does this mean? When you see the words “studies show”, ask what studies? Where were these studies published? And beyond just being published, who looked at these studies to see if they are quality studies? Good, solid science should be vetted by peers - several other experts in the field, before being published, and ultimately incorporated into the advice that a medical doctor would give you.

 

4. Dr. Google provides treatment recommendations based on anecdotal insights 

Anecdotal means “not necessarily true or reliable, based on personal accounts rather than facts or research”. As such, it means that these insights have not gone through the rigorous examination that peer-reviewed research has. Just because Aunt Bessie started to have less knee pain when she started certain supplements doesn’t mean that the supplements are what “cured” her. What if she had also recently lost 20 pounds, and also started taking ibuprofen too? However, Aunt Bessie blogs, and her focus is on how the supplements changed her life - and there it is - out on the internet, so someone will take it as truth. 

I’m not saying everything on Google is inaccurate, just be wise and wary consumer of the internet. Be a proactive participant in your health, but know where your information comes from. 

One good place to start is with the national medical society for the area of healthcare you’re interested in. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery has OrthoInfo, a comprehensive resource for orthopaedic information. You can find the link on my website or go directly to www.orthoinfo.org

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