Having grown up in a world without personal computers or the Internet, I am endlessly fascinated by the ways in which new technologies change our lives. I now find it remarkable that I was ever able to write anything longer than a personal letter with nothing more advanced than a typewriter. My first typewriter with a memory, which held about a page of text – a forerunner of word processing software – was tremendously helpful. My writing of e-mails now outnumbers handwritten personal letters by orders of magnitude.
Explore This IssueACEP News: Vol 32 – No 04 – April 2013
A recent graphic circulated on social media networks delighted my sense of humor. It posed the question of what would be the most difficult thing to explain to someone who was suddenly transported to today’s world from the 1950s. The answer: I have in my pocket a device (a smartphone) that affords me access to all of the information in the world; I use it to look at pictures of cats and get into arguments with strangers. What splendid irony.
The impact of technology was at the core of a recent article I read about the use of Internet search capabilities by people trying to figure out what might be causing medical symptoms they are experiencing. The author referred to this as consulting Dr. Google.
The writer’s central thesis was that people who do this are likely to encounter a bewildering array of possible causes and great difficulty in sorting out which ones are worthy of serious consideration. Thus, a person who is anxious about something might well embark upon such a search only to have the anxiety greatly intensified rather than assuaged.
The author’s recommendation: step away from the computer, pick up the phone, and make an appointment to see your primary care doctor. Spending the money on such a consultation, which might consume 20 minutes of time at the doctor’s office, rather than hours of angst-inducing Web searching, is a good deal (especially if the patient is insured and has a modest copay for an office visit).
As I read this, I was seized by the urge to find this writer, grab him by the lapels of his blazer, shake him vigorously, and say, “No! What is wrong with you?”
‘Sometimes [patients who research the Web] are right on the mark. And sometimes they don’t have what they are worried about, but I know from the get-go what they are worried about.’
There are two reasons for this. First, I give people who sit down at a computer and try to fathom a puzzling question credit for having some mental balance and some ability to discriminate sense from nonsense. I realize there are exceptions, but I think most people are on pretty solid ground here. I see people in the emergency department fairly often who have researched their symptoms on the Web and then come in concerned about a specific cause or two. Sometimes they are right on the mark. And sometimes they don’t have what they are worried about, but I know from the get-go what they are worried about and can readily investigate it and reach a reassuring conclusion.