Why telling ‘Patients’ not to read the Internet is Utter Nonsense & Fosters Consumer Disempowerment

image“Whatever you do, don’t read the Internet!”

The first time I heard of a fellow consumer being told this by their treating Health Care Professional (HCP) I almost choked on my second coffee of the day. “Bollocks!” I roared, ‘How..?’ Then I found myself speechless with indignation, opening and closing my mouth like a dumb goldfish. I’ll make sure I don’t repeat the word ‘bollocks’ here again (pretty please don’t unfollow me for bad language, I’ve never done it before – here at least) and  I will try and word out exactly, in a much more intelligent manner, why I roared it in the first instance.


Why it is absurd to say ‘Don’t read the internet.’

We read the internet everyday getting guidance for almost everything we do, here are some examples, but I’m sure you can think of many more:

1. The weather forecast- do I wear a jumper or just a t-shirt today? Do I need to carry a brolly with me to work? I may check with a few websites to just to be doubly sure.

2. The News – My Facebook feed alerts me to an array of overnight headlines, I may then scroll through their respective sites while also checking for similar articles in different news papers – after all, stories can differ from paper to paper.

3. The Movies – if I want to go to a movie, I check the internet to see what’s on.

4. The opening time of Woolworths, or Coles or whatever supermarket I want to visit if I’m up super early and want to get cracking with the day’s events. This information is online.

5. If I have a random question I sometimes ask Google: Why is everyone talking about the Blue/Black White/Gold dress? Google will give me an array of websites to choose from that may (or may not) answer my question. Although, “When will I get a massive book deal?” hasn’t yet  been answered sufficiently – I must add.

6. Personal Research – I’ve been wanting to know about the Genetic Mutation that causes Methylation problems; the MTHFR defect. Some websites are helpful, others confuse me. But by starting with the Internet, I’ve been able to get a good idea of what the mutation is about and how it may affect me and my kids.

So it’s pretty obvious how important the internet is to us, from daily use for basic bits and bobs to much bigger tasks that help to build our knowledge bases.


Many fellow consumers of healthcare have  been ‘told’ by their treating HCPs:

‘Don’t read the internet.’

‘Whatever you do, don’t trust what you read online.’

‘Oh, not Dr Google!’ (Insert auto ‘scoff & snigger’).

Why is that that some HCP’s feel the need to instruct their patients that whatever happens, they must not research their symptoms or illnesses online? Why do they think that a tool that is used for building knowledge and checking facts for almost every other aspect of an individual’s life should be shunned when it comes down to possibly the most important aspect of a person’s being: An individual’s own health and wellbeing?

Should you trust what you read online?

Out of what you read online, what should you trust? These are important questions – I’ll be posting on this in the near future, when I will explore useful and safe ways to glean helpful information on health and wellness off the net.

The Dangers of Self-Diagnosis..Da, da,daaaaaa!

‘Don’t read the Internet’ = ‘Don’t endanger yourself with false ideas…the Internet is not safe’

HCP’s may worry that consumers will self diagnose (erroneously) and end up risking their life/wellbeing through gleaning advice or tips online rather than seeking the help of a qualified health care professional. This is a valid concern but I believe the heavy focus on this as  the sole reason to avoid ‘reading the internet’ is not justified.

Yes, there may be a small number of consumers who upon reading false information form the wrong conclusions about their health then act accordingly –  risking self harm – but I believe a much greater proportion of consumers simply read to expand their knowledge base in order to fully understand their conditions when they present to their HCPs. And I believe this should be applauded by every health care professional, from Doctor, to Nurse, Naturopath and Homeopath. Reading in an attempt to expand a knowledge base and understanding should be seen as a positive thing!

Power over “Patients”

I don’t want to get slammed for saying this, but after a year spent as a Nurse-Consumer I feel it has to be said. If I hear of fellow consumers revealing that they have been told ‘not to read the internet’  I feel the issue is more about this care provider clutching onto “Power”. A consumer with a strong knowledge base will ask more questions and may challenge treatment options, they may even try to ‘lead’ their own care (ooh the cheek of it). Over the courses of our life times the health and medical knowledge base has gone from being esoteric, a secret, inaccessible knowledge base that can only be gleaned from years of studying medicine to something less mystical. The average patient/consumer traditionally had no understanding about the body, health and illness let alone treatment ‘options’ – options barely existed! The internet and the increasing growth of high quality, highly informative websites have destroyed this ‘esoteric’ feel to medical knowledge and much of it is now, freely accessible to the consumer whether HCP’s feel comfortable about it or not. Not only is the knowledge base very accessible – it turns out that most consumers are more than capable of forming a decent understanding of what they read, even if they don’t have an academic background in health.

Let’s take Claire for example. This is a woman in her mid 50’s with no formal education past her two ‘o-levels,’ with a minimal understanding of bodily processes and medicine. Claire found she was developing foot pain and promptly ‘googled’ it. After reading a number of sites she thought that she might be suffering from Plantar Faciitis. However, she took no action on her provisional self-diagnosis and diligently went to see her GP.

‘I think I’ve got Plantar Faciitis,’ she said. The GP’s nose wrinkled and her forehead creased into a frown.

‘Well what makes you think that?’ She asked sounding somewhat offended.

‘I’ve got all the symptoms,’ Claire began to list the symptoms she had that corresponded to what she had read online. It turned out she was right, she did have Plantar Faciitis – she’d read about the condition and sought a medical opinion. There is nothing remotely wrong about this.

However Claire did add when she recounted the appointment later, that she didn’t say she’d researched her condition online as her GP hates it when she mentions the big bad word ‘Internet.’ She says it immediately puts her GP’s back up. You can try and see this any other way you like – but to me, this looks like someone whose sense of power and authority is threatened by a consumer who has done some reading:

‘Don’t read the Internet’ = ‘Don’t empower yourself with knowledge that will question my authority over you.’

Another woman I know who will go by Jane for anonymity here, kept pushing her doctors for a diagnosis to her strange neurological symptoms but she was fobbed off each time. Internet research made her very concerned about the possibility of a brain tumour so she kept persisting. When she eventually got her diagnosis – it was indeed a brain tumour – she was relieved she had caught it when she did, but it was only diagnosed due to her militant efforts and hours spent researching her strange symptoms online.

Health Care Professional’s are not God-Like 

As  HCP I can testify that it can be a little  hairy – well, embarrassing, if a consumer (or patient – if we still want to use that word – I’ll go into why I hate that word another time) has read deeply into their condition and asks questions that I’m not sure I know the answer to. One of the most embarrassing aspects of this is that they think that I should know! Clearly Doctors (Nurses and all HCPs,)  don’t know everything and honesty around saying ‘I don’t know’ should be welcomed by consumers, not criticised.

It is my opinion that Doctors face the biggest expectation of complete ‘omniscience’ (knowing all) more than any other health care professional – this is a massive expectation they feel they have to live up to and it is completely unrealistic.  Of my favourite doctors says ‘I don’t know’ a lot. This is why she is one of my favourites. It is so much safer to have a treating HCP who knows their limits, owns up to not knowing and even better, declares they will go and research it…OK I’m dreaming on a little, but it has been known to happen! HCPs are human and fallible – something that some of them/us need to accept in addition to the consumers they treat.

Coming soon: How to use the Internet to research Health, Wellness and Medicine 

A Note on Consumer Empowerment from Nurse Naomi: Thanks for stopping by! The past year as a Nurse turned Consumer has been an eye opening experience for me and I have decided to start a new category on my blog: Consumer Empowerment. I have struggled sometimes feeling as if I am fighting the system to get my daughter the help she deserves and this activism hasn’t always been without a backlash. Anyway, I am loud and confident and feel able to stand up as an Empowered Consumer – it is those who lack this confidence that have often been in my thoughts. How the hell do they get by in this system that, often without intent, so easily disempowers its consumers? Well, I am hoping to gradually build up a series of blog posts on this topic and hope together we can discuss how to navigate the Health Care System as knowledgeable, Empowered Consumers.

Please stop by at my Facebook page if you fancy keeping in touch on a daily basis, although I do share more than Nurse Naomi blog posts there 🙂 Otherwise think about signing up for Email blog updates if you like what you’ve read today. 




  1 comment for “Why telling ‘Patients’ not to read the Internet is Utter Nonsense & Fosters Consumer Disempowerment

  1. September 8, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    You know what they call a med student who finishes at the bottom of their class? Doctor.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: