Dr. Google Doesn’t Have a License

You should entrust your health to people who went to medical school and you just can’t be sure everyone on the internet offering health advice knows what they are talking about.

A recent survey of more than 2,000 millennials on the topic of healthcare finds 43% say they are ignoring a major health issue, 33% saying they’ve been ignoring it for more than a year. The number one reason they list for their absence is the pandemic.

Besides, since they always have their face in a phone, they can look up what ails them.

Not good advice, suggests UT Health Family Physician Dr. Joaquin Villegas. He has a medical degree.

Dr. Villegas says the number one health-related question in 2019 asked on Google – which has become known as “Dr. Google” – is a case in point. “How can I lower my blood pressure?”

The answer is best provided by a physician who can actually see the person asking the question, making note of their age, weight, and medical history listed on their chart, he points out. “You’ll get a lot of the average results, like ‘low sodium diet,’ “diet’, ‘exercise.’ But as a physician I can quantify the risk, and can ask how old the patient is,” says Dr. Villegas. Because blood pressure, he says, is based on age, risk can be indicated by weight, and if the patient has an extensive history of very low blood pressure perhaps they should be advised not to try lowering theirs.

Those people who turn to Dr. Google for a self-diagnosis might also have a tendency to medicate themselves, sometimes by doubling up on a prescription or using a spouses, either of which can have dangerous consequences.

Some millennial patients are more comfortable in online formats, and when the pandemic began many found those appealing when they were afraid of contracting Covid. “There are a good number of people that like to do these tele-health appointments to minimize risk, but it’s started to slow down. It’s not as bad as it was around this time last year,” Villegas says. Telehealth is a great and welcome option, he points out, but sometimes feeling a joint or listening to lungs requires in-person appointments. Dr. Villegas says the internet provides a wonderful resource for patients to inform themselves and gain understanding of issues they face, but for a diagnosis and treatment, you’re best served visiting a doctor who went to medical school and leaving Dr. Google to the conspiracy theorists.

photo: Getty Images

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