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Googling that weird rash? 6 tips for identifying trusted sources

Posted on Jun. 27, 2018 ( comments)

Just ask any doctor: You’d be hard pressed to find one who hasn’t had a patient bring up a Google search when discussing their potential diagnoses.

Got a rash? Check Google image search. Weird dizziness? You might have vertigo, anemia, pregnancy, a brain tumor or a bite from a Guatemalan rain spider (OK, I made up that last one).

Let’s face it: We live in an information age and Google is a brilliant source of information. However, without a medical background to help put potential causes of illness and disease into perspective, Google can often be confusing and sometimes frightening.

Doctors and other medical providers must then help you sort through complex and confusing diagnoses, most of which are highly unlikely, and debunk often faulty information gleaned from non-reputable sites.

We providers get frustrated. We curse Dr. Google under our breath. We buy mugs that say “Please do not confuse your Google search with my medical degree.”

But I’m going to let you in on a little secret (and I might just get kicked out of the club for this one): Doctors also use Dr. Google. Gasp! Shock and awe!

Google is, hands down, the fastest way for providers to find the information they need. Side effects of hydralazine? Normal bilirubin levels in a newborn? Just search Google and the world of science and medicine is at our fingertips, just as it is for patients.

However, there are both good and bad sources of information. You just have to know which ones to trust. Here are some tips for identifying reputable, well-founded medical information online:

1. Look for nationally recognized and other trusted sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic and so on. Government funded, not-for-profit (such as MultiCare), and university sites tend to be trustworthy.

2. In general, disease-specific sites are also reputable: American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, Alzheimer’s Association, etc.

3. Look for the most current sources. Medical information is constantly changing, so make sure to check the date of the article you are reading or the date of most recent update for the site you are using.

4. Research the author. Are they reputable? Do they have a background which allows them to speak with authority, or is this merely an opinion piece made to sound scientific? Do they list sources backing up their claims and can those sources be verified?

5. If the site is trying to sell you something, be skeptical. As much as possible, you want to look for sources that are unbiased and don’t have a conflict of interest. If an online medical practitioner or site is trying to sell you their products, they are inherently biased and you should move on.

6. Please don’t believe everything you read on Facebook. Just because a friend of your mother’s neighbor swears by an essential oil to cure cancer, or is claiming that a vaccine has been linked to infertility or a supplement is great for weight loss and is totally safe doesn’t make it true. Before you start that miracle cure or supplement, please talk to your medical provider. Let them help you make sense of all those claims and help keep you safe and healthy.

That’s it! Pick your sources wisely and discuss any questions or concerns you have with your provider. And if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Google can be an amazing tool for learning — for patients and doctors alike. We just have to know how to use it.

Providers may grumble a little when a Google search shows up during an office visit, but we shouldn’t let it frustrate us so much. Our job is to educate, and that’s what Google is allowing us to do. After all, the origins of the word “doctor” come from the Latin word “docere,” which means “to teach.”

Yes, I looked that up on Google.

About The Author

Gretchen LaSalle, MD
Gretchen LaSalle, MD, is a family medicine provider at MultiCare Rockwood Quail Run Clinic. Learn more about Dr. LaSalle More stories by this author
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