What Modern Family Teaches Us About Seeking Medical Advice Online

A few weeks ago I experienced some symptoms that caused me some worry. I wasn’t sure if they warranted a trip to the doctor, so I decided to look up my symptoms on Web MD. After a quick search, a list of several possible things came up. While one possibility was minor, another was cancer.

After reading all about the symptoms, I began an internal battle. Should I go to the doctor? Should I wait it out? What if I wait, but then it gets worse and I have to go to the ER? What if it IS cancer?

Half an hour and a phone call to my husband later, I decided it wasn’t serious enough to warrant a trip to the doctor, so I pushed my worry to the back of my mind and went about my day.

In the end, the symptoms didn’t produce anything more serious, and I didn’t have to go to the doctor.

photo: celebuzz

But my experience that day made me think. Should I really be going to the Internet for medical advice? Although I wonder if an online service is as reputable as my doctor, I know I’m not the only one who goes online for health information.

I am a big fan of the show Modern Family, and not too long before I visited the web in a state of worry, this exact subject came up on the show.

One of the characters, Jay, was having stomach pains one afternoon. So like I did, he got online to check out possible causes for his symptoms. But when his wife Gloria found out, she told him to stop worrying and get away from the computer, that he was only putting crazy ideas in his head. So he enlisted the help of his stepson Manny to secretly continue researching his symptoms. His searches ultimately lead Jay to sneak away to the hospital, suspecting his appendix was about to burst.

Sure enough, when Jay got to the hospital, they told him he was indeed suffering from appendicitis, and needed surgery immediately. Good thing he looked up his symptoms!

Research shows that Americans rely on the Internet for the great majority of health information. And while I’m not sure which web site Manny and Jay were visiting in the show, I am almost certain it wasn’t the local hospital’s web site.

So how can your hospital make sure your patients are getting the most accurate health information online?

  • Create or subscribe to a mobile app to help patients look up symptoms, find medical treatment facilities and search for a physician. I downloaded an app called Triage that allows me to do all of this, including research diseases and procedures.
  • Provide up-to-date information on your web site that advises patients what to do if they are concerned about symptoms they experience.
  • Educate your patients. If you know they are going to go to the web for health information, direct them to sites you trust, and then give them information that leads them back to your hospital for treatment.

With the constantly changing social media/health care world, it’s important for your hospital to be part of the change.

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