THE BLOG
02/29/2016 11:23 am ET Updated Mar 01, 2017

Why You Should Google Your Symptoms, Part II

Kelly Loughlin Photography via Getty Images

As I wrote last week, today's patients can use the Internet to become remarkably well informed about their illness or injury -- and that's usually a very good thing.

Why? Because patients realize that doctors can't know everything, that often their time is limited, and at the end of the day, the patient who has thought deeply about their symptoms and possible causes is a better informant than the one who leaves it to the doctor to figure out. "The patient is almost always right" were the wisest words I learned from my physician father.

Yet it still takes a good doctor to listen and to think. The best doctors do both really well. Which brings me to: Google your doctor. Because just as you, the patient, bring your biases and information to the examining room, so does a doctor. Knowing his or her biases, skills and experience will help you understand why one treatment is offered and not another.

A doctor whose practice is mostly artificial joint replacements, for example, is highly likely to offer you drugs and relative rest advice until you are old enough for a joint replacement for your symptoms of knee arthritis. It is what he/she knows and what does well. The doctor who does more biologic joint replacement procedures is more likely to offer injections of stem cells, growth factors, joint lubrication, exercises, or biologic replacement of your damaged meniscus or articular cartilage.

The doctor who has had success with partial joint replacements will be more likely to offer that procedure than a full joint replacement. Their sphere of experience affects how they listen, what they hear, and what they recommend. Knowing your doctor's skills in advance will help you make the best choices for you in collaboration with the doctor.

And this doesn't just apply to surgeons. Medical doctors who are attuned to environmental causes of disease will assess your mercury and magnesium levels, while more 'traditional" doctors may be more focused on your blood lipid and sugar levels.

Lastly -- after you've performed due diligence with your symptoms and doctor -- you'll want to Google your diagnosis and treatment. After you have received a treatment, whether drugs alone or surgery, the side effects are often scary and sometimes unpredicted. By Googling those symptoms, you effectively crowd source the vast group of people who have experienced the same symptoms after the same combination of treatments. The end result is that everyone becomes more knowledgeable, sharing facts about what actually does occur -- not just what was hoped for.

So use the Internet to your best advantage. Google you symptoms, and present as full a picture as possible to a doctor who will listen intently. Read widely, and act wisely to achieve the best possible outcomes.