Whose advice are you taking anyway?

August 3, 2010 at 8:30 pm Leave a comment

Hello all!  Sorry I’ve been out of touch for a while.  After a brief vacation, I think I suffered a sense of discouragement under the impression that my blog was being frequented exclusively by my facebook friends (thanks guys!  keep reading!) and not reaching anybody new.

So imagine my surprise and joy when a patient came to my office with the following request “I want an IUD like you describe on your blog.”  No way!  Somebody who had never met me read my blog, liked what she read, and acted upon it to improve her healthcare.  Wow. 

So that got me thinking about how people find health information on the internet and who they go to when they seek healthcare.  So many of my patients come in to the office with questions they think about after a perusal of others’ internet blogs and Mommy/Baby related bulletin boards.  They often quote something they saw on ‘The View’ or mention an advertisement on T.V.

I want you to be careful what you read.  Obviously, an advertisement is aimed to sell you something.  But I’m not just talking about the pharmaceutical company ads that suggest you allow a fluorescent green butterfly to lull you to sleep.

If you read somebody’s post or watch a T.V. segment and think “Hey, now there’s something I should do!” you should first consider the following:  Who is this person giving advice? 

Is it a doctor? Not everybody who calls themself a doctor is a physician.  Then again, as Dr. Evil (from the Austin Powers movies) so succinctly puts it “I didn’t spend 4 years in Evil Medical School to be called Mister Evil.” 

Dr. Evil

Any person who received a doctorate in any field of study can call themself a doctor.  For example: Dr. Ruth completed a PhD in psychology and a masters in sociology.  She can give you great advice, but she can’t write you a prescription and won’t do your pap smear.  Remember “Ross” on friends?  He was Dr. Geller, a PhD in paleontology.  You wouldn’t let him give you medical advice of any kind, would you?  Unless you were a dinosaur. (And don’t get me started on Dr. Phil, who also has a psychology degree and who also is not performing my pap smear.)

In contrast, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Dr. Drew Pinsky and even Dr. 902010’s own Dr. Robert Rey have medical doctorate (M.D.) degrees.  They are physicians, like me.  Wait, did I just say Dr. 90210 is like me?  Well, nevermind.  But eew.

A physician can also be a D.O. (doctor of osteopathy, a degree which is essentially identical to an M.D.).    A physician may call him or herself by a first, last, or nickname.  But they’ll all tell you about their hard-earned degree and extensive medical training.  That information is usually also available by reading their bio (see mine) on a website, on Google, or by looking at their degree-covered wall.  My Mom made sure all of mine had matching frames.  Seriously.

Most practicing physicians have completed a residency in some field of medicine (Internal Medicine, Neurosurgery, Dermatology, Obstetrics/Gynecology, etc) which can take three to seven-plus years of training in addition to the four years spent in medical school.  That’s a whole lot of years devoted to the study and practice of medicine before anybody is going to let you hang up your shingle.  And even then, you definitely want to check out your doctor before you check in for a visit (more on that in my next post, but kudos to me for the pun).

Is it a nurse?  Nurses also give great medical advice.  A nurse may have L.P.N. (licensed practical nurse) or R.N. (registered nurse) after her name.  A nurse practitioner has had additional training and may add N.P.  Back in the old days, each nursing school had a different shape of those white nursing caps you still see in old movies.  A nurse was literally wearing her bona fides on her head.  Nowadays, a person who calls him or herself “Nurse” will usually be proud to tell you of her hard-earned degrees and outstanding qualifications. 

Julianna Margulies (as Nurse Carol Hathaway on E.R.)

On the other hand, a lot of information on websites, blogs and bulletin boards comes from people just like you.  Patients who may or may not have any formal medical knowledge can use the internet to share information and help other people who may find themselves in similar circumstances.  This is incredibly empowering.  Learning about other people’s experiences can lead patients to ask better questions, seek alternative treatments, and otherwise ensure that the care they receive is the best available. 

But beware of negative posts describing the unfortunate experience somebody had with a disease, doctor, hospital or medication.  The internet is often a place where posts describing gripes far outnumber those recounting tales of successful care.  People who are pain-free, pregnant, or otherwise relieved of their health woes are less likely to spend hours on the computer blogging/posting about it.  They are often busy working, raising children, and enjoying their family and friends.   

A person who is dissatisfied with her care may have ample reason to be unhappy.  People out there really get crappy care/luck sometimes, and some of the things I read absoultely break my heart.  But if there’s supposed to be a take-home message from somebody’s post, you’ll want to find a reliable source against which to check it.

So if you see something on the internet that sounds like somebody giving you advice, it’s best to talk it over with somebody who is is medically knowledgeable and trustworthy.  And I’m going to hope your doctor or nurse is one of those people.

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Entry filed under: Gynecology. Tags: , , , , , , , .

The IUD 4 U! (An intro to the Intrauterine Device) How do I find a good gynecologist?

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Linda M. Nicoll, MD

Welcome to my blog! Here you will find information about minimally invasive gynecologic surgery as well as some more general information about common gynecologic disorders such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, fibroids, infertility, and pelvic pain.

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