Columns 14.12.2017 07:34 am

Human doctors vs Dr Google

Patients come in with thick files of information they have collected off the internet and start telling the doctor their diagnosis, as they see it, and what should be done.

Due to an unlucky genetic inheritance and no small negligence on my own part, I have ended up with high cholesterol and insulin resistance.

This is apparently a particularly unfortunate combination because the drugs that push the bad LDL cholesterol down – statins – have the side effect of increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

So I’m treading a tricky health path at the moment.

What intrigues me is when I talk to people about my health concerns – when you get on a bit you tend to do this, even though you hated hearing it when you were younger and vowed you never would.

Anyway, so we’re chatting about the pitfalls of high LDL cholesterol and creeping insulin levels, with hypthyroidism thrown in, when, inevitably someone will offer their own quick and simple solution: “You should take X” or “You should see Dr X” or “Oh, I had a cousin who had that. He takes apple cider vinegar … completely cured!” Now, I’ve been following wellness trends for a while, and I see an integrative specialist who consults from nicely-appointed rooms in a leafy suburb and costs me a fair packet.

They are highly trained professionals, GPs who supplement their studies with functional medicine, also called anti-ageing medicine. In their treatment they combine drugs with supplements and many other kinds of remedies that work, such as nutraceuticals and bio-identical hormonal replacement therapy.

They don’t prescribe a thing until they’ve done full blood tests to make an accurate assessment of what you need.

This all makes sense to me. Before I went to see Dr M I used to pop anything from vitamin B to HTP5 like they were Smarties.

I would read that some substance helped for some ailment, and go out and buy it.

The chemists and health food shops loved me. But still, I developed high cholesterol, pre-diabetes and hypothyroidism.

Through my own hard-headedness, too. A GP at one stage did prescribe a statin but I was against drugs at that time so I never filled the script. And there’s the rub. Today I think, just do what the doctor tells you.

Another integrative specialist I spoke to, Dr G, told me his worst enemy was “Dr Google”.

Patients come in with thick files of information they have collected off the internet and start telling him their diagnosis, as they see it, and what should be done. When he makes a suggestion, they shoot it down.

“That’s not what I read on WebMD,” they may say. Now, how should Dr G respond? I know for a fact that he’s spent the last 20 years commuting between SA and the US qualifying himself in cutting-edge functional medicine. Interestingly, a study last year found that doctors make the correct diagnosis in 72% of cases whereas symptom-checker apps manage only 34%.

Doctors aren’t perfect but at least you can talk to them. I thank my helpful friends and family for their advice but sigh: “I’m just doing what the doctor says.”

Much as I’m tempted, I don’t add that he’s got a string of qualifications and I am more inclined to do what he suggests than someone who listened to a radio show or surfed the web and now thinks they are an expert. But maybe they were just trying to help. Or to shut me up.

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