To become a doctor, I had to burn the midnight oil and master many medical tomes for over 8 years. Even after being an IVF specialist for over 25 years, I am still acutely aware of how little doctors understand about the reproductive system. While ART ( assisted reproductive technology) has made dramatic leaps in the last 2 decades, the body is full of tantalising secrets which we have still not been able to crack. I need to learn new stuff all the time. All doctors are aware of this, which is why we attend medical conferences and read medical journals, to keep ourselves updated. And I always remember that even as an expert in my own field, I can make mistakes.
However, I encounter patients who feel they know more than I do, because they did their “research online”. Now I am quite happy to be open-minded, and discuss their findings with them, but I do wish they would remember that there is a difference between information, knowledge and wisdom. Sadly, some patients are so ignorant of the medical wisdom that exists, that they don’t even have a clue that they don’t have a clue! True expertise lies in being humble, and remembering that you can be wrong.
What bothers good doctors is not that patients go to Dr Google to look up information. This is a healthy trend , and I encourage this, provided they have the maturity to understand the difference between reliable information and fluff. My concern is that they don’t understand the limitations of what they read, and they may end up going down the wrong path because they could not apply the information to their personal situation because of a lack of context and insight.
I have to sit and explain why what they have read does not apply to them and unlearning and relearning take a lot of time and energy !
Smart patients are mature, and can differentiate between a site which can be trusted ( for example, from the NHS; the NIH; or Harvard) . They will do their homework online, and then share what they learn with their doctor, so he can help them see if the information they have unearthed is relevant to their specific circumstances.
Smart doctors will guide patients to trusted websites; and the smarter one will provide reliable information for their patients on their personal website, to make sure their patients don’t get lost and confused!
by Dr Aniruddha Malpani
A consultant IVF specialist, who runs one of India’s leading IVF clinics at www.drmalpani.com, along with his wife, Dr Anjali Malpani. They have founded HELP, the Health Education Library for People (www.healthlibrary.com), which is India’s first Patient Education Resource Center.