When you have an unusual pain, an unexpected spell of dizziness or a brief mental glitch where you forget a familiar name, what’s your first move? For many of us these days, it’s searching the web for an idea about what might be causing the trouble.
For those of us who can remember the pre-internet era, the volume and depth of information available online is astonishing, and it’s often truly helpful. But paging “Dr. Google” over health symptoms can be an exercise in paranoid hypochondria. Search for “leg pain,” and you can find yourself poring over the details of blood clots and diabetic neuropathy when all you’re suffering from is a charley horse.
But there’s no need to abandon the internet altogether when it comes to information about your health. The key is to know where to look. Web searches often lead to sites like Yahoo Answers, where anyone can post responses to questions, and misinformation is rampant. Even more reliable sources can have built-in problems. Many in the medical community have raised questions about the popular site WebMD, which has strong ties to the pharmaceutical industry and makes its money from advertising. Fortunately, there are other sites that are considered more authoritative, particularly MayoClinic.com and the government site MedLine Plus.
There are also some great resources at local Massachusetts hospitals’ sites. Jordan Hospital in Plymouth has a “chat” feature, allowing patients to communicate in real time with advisors. At the website of Weymouth’s South Shore Hospital you can find a library of resources about all sorts of medical conditions and health issues, as well as interactive quizzes and calculators.
Of course, no website, however interactive, can understand your personal needs when it comes to care. So it’s crucial to talk about anything you’re really concerned about with your home health care worker or private duty nurse, or with your doctor.