Now that our culture is so interconnected through social media, blogging, and search-engine wizardry, it’s easier than ever to have health information at our fingertips.
This presents you with a huge advantage in many ways. You can search Google to find highly rated practitioners in your area. You can check your symptoms on WebMD to see if you should head to the doctor or wait for the symptoms to pass on their own. After you get a diagnosis, you can research treatment options and make a decision with all of the available information from PubMed studies, opinions published by well-respected doctors on their blogs, and stories from other patients who have gone through similar challenges.
But, like all things, this access to information has a shadowy side.
Recently, I’ve seen a disturbing trend in many of my social media networks. People are asking questions in Facebook groups and on Twitter that they should be asking a practitioner – not their social media buddies.
Whether you go to a physician, a naturopath, or an acupuncturist, there’s a crucial step in the healing process that these trained professionals perform for you. It’s called “differential diagnosis,” which means that the practitioner comes up with a list of all of the possible things that could be causing your problem. Their extensive training teaches them how to sort through all of the possible causes to hone in on the one that’s most likely to blame for your symptoms. The right diagnosis leads to the right treatment.
Without a real diagnosis, you risk not only making the problem worse (or not getting better at all), but also run the risk of potentially missing a serious illness that could get you into real medical trouble if you don’t get the right kind of treatment.
It’s impossible to get an accurate diagnosis from WebMD alone, and even more unlikely that it will come from a crowd of people on Facebook. Your friends, fellow patients, and healthy-eating experts aren’t trained in diagnosis. And any doctor, herbalist, or acupuncturist knows that they can’t give you the health care you deserve in a comment on social media.
Of course you should tap your networks for support, and there are smart ways to use social media to support your health. Follow these guidelines to get the support you need and the real health care that you deserve.
1. Use the internet for background research.
Not the final answer to your question. Ask for referrals to great practitioners. Research various treatment options so you know what questions to ask your provider, and make a list that you bring with you to your appointment so you don’t forget!
2. Use social media for emotional support.
Your friends and networks are great places to tap into when you’re struggling. Ask for prayers, supportive words, or for concrete help like people to make dinners for you while you’re going through a tough phase of treatment. Emotional and social support helps with recovery, and social media can be a great way to let the people who care about you know how to help.
3. Seek out inspirational stories that give you hope.
But remember that what works for one person won’t always work for you. Make your health care decisions with the support of trained practitioners, but let the inspiration of others’ success stories give you hope that you’ll find your own way to navigate your health challenges.
4. If you’re a coach or a natural medicine practitioner, resist the urge to “help” by giving advice without a full consultation.
As healers, we really want to help, and it’s so tempting to think that we can give a piece of advice that will make a difference for someone. Express your generosity and care by sharing a supportive word and a message of hope. Encourage people who ask you for advice to get the kind of one-on-one attention they deserve, either by working with you for a consultation or by finding a practitioner in their area.
5. Let the internet help you with the “how-to” part of making the changes that your practitioner prescribes.
Ask your friends for healthy recipes and food blogs they love. Find out where to get the best prices on the herbs and supplements you’ve been prescribed. Get tips on how to fit mindfulness and exercise into your busy day. Your friends often have better advice on these things than your doctor does!
Let’s all make the commitment – as patients, healthy-living advocates and natural medicine providers – to put a stop to this trend of crowdsourced health advice. Let’s keep writing articles, doing our research, supporting each other and working toward making quality health care (both natural and conventional) available to all people.
And let’s always remember that there is no substitute for quality one-on-one care and appropriate diagnosis.