Physician Connections: The Internet Brings Health Home

By Tracy Morris

My grandmother, who died last year at the age of 95, related to physicians with a mindset typical of her generation.  Using a computer to find internet health information was not something she would have done.

Rather than giving much thought to preventive health (she and her family ate tons of deep-fried foods, red meat, and small sides of over-cooked veggies, and exercise was something that Jack LaLanne did on TV), she waited to see doctors after illness struck. Having escorted her to a few check-up appointments, I knew that the relationship between her and her practitioners was usually a one-way communication path. Once she’d quickly laid out what was wrong, she waited for the verdict and prescription. How closely she actually followed the recommendations was probably dependent on her age — the older she got, the less she heard, understood, and remembered. But her intention to do just as she was told was always there.

Things are quite different today. People who make use of health care professionals’ services are often referred to as consumers rather than patients. When the Internet spread like wildfire into homes across the globe, so did vast amounts of knowledge about health, illness, medicine and other treatments. Women of my grandmothers’ generation knew essentially what they learned from their own personal experiences or those of their family. Now, we find out much about achieving and maintaining health from people we’ll likely never meet offline.

pic1As our personal archives of health knowledge have expanded, the way we think about health care professionals has changed — and the relationship is far from a one-way street. Just a few years ago, a lot of grumbling could be heard from physicians, many of whom were skeptical at best about the new approach by Web-empowered patients. With equal parts amusement and irritation, doctors were feeling accosted in their exam rooms by the Worried Well, people who were sure they’d found the keys online to any number of undiagnosed maladies. Patients with bona fide medical conditions brought printed webpages to their appointments, compleat with instructions on how to bring up touchy subjects like alternative treatments to your doctor.

A few Internet years down the road, the atmosphere is calmer now, as researching consumers have become savvy about reputable websites and physicians have learned to think of their patients as being on the same team. Women no longer need to seek health care as my grandmother did – with little factual knowledge about prevention or illness, and eager to follow doctors’ orders without a second thought.

Women still get much of their health care information from other women, even if it’s on a coast-to-coast or even across-the-sea basis. Whether the conversations are occurring around the kitchen or boardroom tables or in late-night chatrooms, women still share what they know with other women. Single women, in particular, may greatly benefit from the broad and easy access to details on what makes our bodies work and what doesn’t, how to know when it’s time to worry, and the possible remedies available. The Internet has made isolation, a reality for many single women of my grandmother’s era, a virtual thing of the past. With that kind of connection, our health and well-being can only improve.

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