The Internet busily buzzed when the cancer arm of the WHO (World Health Organization) recently went on record to say there is a “possible” carcinogenic link between mobile phones and brain cancer in humans. While the report puts cell phones in the same category as the pesticide DDT and gasoline engine fumes, the kerfuffle about such reports highlights a problem I encounter often with my clients, friends, and other Social Media savvy people: when there are many voices speaking at once, and all have supposed or assumed authority, how do you find good healthcare advice?
The answer to how one goes about finding good healthcare advice depends on your resources and the urgency of your healthcare issue. First of all, I think it’s fantastic if you take the time to know as much about what is going on with your health issue as possible. Writing down notes such as onset of symptoms, reactions, any treatments you’ve tried, and any history surrounding the issue that might be relevant may be very helpful in your search options.
Here are some practical tips for starting your search for sound advice:
1. Triage the problem for its urgency. If you have trouble breathing, have uncontrolled bleeding, heart pain (angina), or someone you are trying to assist loses consciousness, these are all situations where looking up information on the Internet about what is happening are not helpful. Time is of the essence. Call an emergency number such as 911 or your local hospital or fire department.
If you are trying to help someone who is suicidal, there are specific crisis hotlines available 24/7. You an Google your local crisis line number by entering in the keywords, “crisis line” ,and the name of your city. Suicide hotline numbers can also be found by searching “suicide hotline” and the name of your city. The great thing about this is if a friend is in another city and mentions to you that she’s feeling suicidal, you can help by giving her that number and urging her to call while you stay on the computer or phone with her. It truly is the next best thing to being there.
2. For non-urgent but critical issues, turn to your smartphone or computer for help. Some of the best help is available at your fingertips by using your browser to search for everything from signs of pregnancy to moderate allergic reactions to medications. However, some medical advice is better than others. The best are usually attached to places like WebMD or MayoClinic, and articles there are listed with the author and his/her credentials, or links to reputable medical and mental health websites.
Don’t rely on programs like Yahoo! Answers for medical advice, especially if the answers are made anonymously. If you must ask questions on these sites, understand that you get what you pay for (and you aren’t paying anything). Crowd sourcing for answers is a new and novel way to find out the opinions of others, but you probably don’t want to put your urgent medical question up to a vote.
3. Search online newspapers with a healthcare section, and do word searches within the newspaper itself. These newspapers (like CNN) post articles from reputable doctors who stand by their word with their own professional licenses to practice. Their work is researched, and they are often well-published enough to hold credibility in the medical community.
Suppose you want to know more about the practices of doctors who use cellphones. You can search CNN’s health section for Dr. Gupta‘s article describing why he does not hold his cell phone to his ear, and why he has chosen to use a wired earpiece. While his post is his personal opinion, his article presents his thought process on his personal decision, allowing the reader to weigh in on the same research that guided his decision.
4. Pick up your phone and call your health insurance’s hotline. If you work for a large company, chances are you have been given the number for a nurse on call 24/7 for your healthcare questions from diet and exercise to crisis-oriented situations. Some small company insurance plans include a call line for questions of a non-urgent nature.
While we’re on the topic of calling a hotline, many hospitals have an telephonic triage nurse call center that takes your calls and helps determine if you need emergency care, and what kind of care you need even if you don’t need to visit a hospital. Recently, I visited one in the Renton, WA area. The entire room is outfitted with new computers and phones, and the latest triage decision tree software applications. Several nurses, a floating nurse supervisor, and a physician are available for more challenging client calls.
5. If you need professional mental health help, it’s only a phone call or Google search away. I cannot reiterate how thankful my clients have been that I offer some of my services online and by phone. Recently, a friend mentioned how phone counseling sessions helped her through a difficult time, and she chose a therapist over the phone versus meeting with a therapist F2F. This can be really helpful after you’ve done some reading, you’ve bounced thoughts off of trusted friends, and you still feel stuck with whatever you’re dealing with, but F2F therapy isn’t going to work for you for a variety of reasons (cost, convenience, availability and scheduling, commute, etc). This is not surprising news. An article posted online in Psychology Today cited a 2008 launch of a depression treatment program in Japan accessed over a mobile phone, with a drop out rate significantly less than that of F2F psychotherapy. While the article did not state all the factors that reduced the drop out rate (and the link posted went to the 2008 journal that would require me to plunk down some cold hard cash to access information that is now at least three years old), it appears safe to conclude that teletherapy and therapy provided by through the Internet by trained helping professionals are an effective way of providing depression treatment to those who seek it, and it may provide higher compliancy for the treatment time required to see an improvement in mood.
And is there anything you don’t want to be doing when looking for healthcare advice online?
The major thing you don’t want to be doing is self-diagnosis. Even doctors themselves are not allowed to write their own prescriptions for their diagnosed conditions; they also have to submit themselves under the care of another physician or psychiatrist, nurse or therapist. I see this as a good thing.
When you have a troubling, chronic, or fairly new health condition, it’s good to go into the search for answers with a fairly open mind about treatment options. I’m not saying that everyone is going to be miraculously cured by sound treatment using bells and gongs, but then again, many cancer patients and those experiencing long-term illness have received benefit from sound treatment. Consult an expert. Get a proper diagnosis, where possible, and if there is some question to the diagnosis, ask for a second outside opinion. Read up on the lastest research. In essence, knowledge is more than power; it’s empowerment.