The Jack of All Ills: How the Internet Democratized Medicine

I’m old enough and just craggy enough to remember the pure disdain medical doctors had  for the internets in the early 1990’s when the web was growing by bounds and grabbing the brains of any and every eager mind.  The reason doctors hated the internet was because open access to information diluted their expertise by egalitarian dissemination of research and the democratic propagation of information; and they resented it when patients knew more about a drug or a condition than they did.  Eager patients are hungry for information and becoming the master of a single pill or a defined diagnosis is much easier than having to worry about every single chemical condition and biological solution studied at medical school.  Patients are the masters of their ailments; doctors are the jack of all ills.

I remember several times in the 90’s when I would quote something I read on the internet and how my doctors would poo-poo me or tell me the internet “didn’t know anything” and I always found that attitude disappointing because I wasn’t reading discussion boards, I was reading published medical research.  Why not let the patient be a co-caretaker in their own defense of what is ailing them?  How can more information and additional answers hurt more than the possibilities of healing?

As time passed, and as doctors began using the internet for their own wants and wishes — and as new doctors graduated from medical school and began working in the field — attitudes began to change and doctors didn’t feel their expertise and schooling were being attacked by “internet research” done by patients.

In fact, during one recent doctor’s visit, when I asked about the possible side-effects of a new medication regimen, I was brushed off and told to “Google it” and find my own answers on my own outside his office.

What an amazing attitudinal turnaround in two decades!  We’ve gone from “the internet knows nothing” meme to “Google is the doctor’s 24-hour on-call out-of-the-office assistant who knows everything and remembers more” than any doctor ever could.

I welcome the change.  I am always hungry for more information and if I can find out more about what ails me and what can heal me — that can only help level up my understanding and put me on a little more even keel with my doctors — who may continue to try to brush me off — but who will also be unable to hush me or shush me with their triangulated training and their I-know-more-than-you-do-because-of-my-diploma attitude that shuts down more conversations than it resolves real world hurt.

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