informationWhen you first find out you have a problem with something, it’s natural to have a zillion questions and to just dive into reading just about everything you can get your hands on. When it comes to health, many real doctors argue that Dr. Google can be one of the most damaging things out there for patients. I guess that’s fair enough given many people’s inability to distinguish between what is credible on the internet. But if you know what to look at and where to look for it, I believe you can find a lot of excellent information online. And not only on the mainstream sites like WebMD.

If it wasn’t for the internet, I would not have come as far as I have in such a short time to getting to the root of my health issues. To give an example of this, I will trace my information pathways prior to trying to conceive. I began with some online reading on some of the popular parenting websites and a book for women trying to conceive and first-time mothers. I never saw anything about MTHFR or the fact that many people need the active form of folic acid in my pregnancy book. In fact, I had only read online in a forum somewhere that many women are unaware that they aren’t able to convert regular folic acid into the active form, leaving them deficient in this crucial vitamin. Most only find out after multiple miscarriages or have babies born with birth defects. Eventually I found some detailed information online about T3 and T4 levels for hypothyroid patients and the importance of having optimal levels prior to getting pregnant. It was my own posts about my doctor visits and lab work on an online discussion forum that led to someone suggesting that I get tested for MTHFR. And so here we are. Had I simply gone to doctors and specialists and not questioned anything they told me, I would be completely ignorant of my situation. So I give Dr. Google, and my own ability to use it wisely, some credit.

As you may be able to tell, I’m a big fan of online discussion forums and communities. However and wherever they exist, be it a forum hosted by a media company or a Facebook or Yahoo group, I am for them. People need to get together and compare notes and talk about their health problems. They can find support and the comments in forums often build up a useful database of information that can be mined later by others searching for keywords about their own problems. Most of the time these discussions are uninhibited because of anonymity. I did my entire masters thesis on this topic and I absolutely believe in the value of these discussions. If you have a specific health concern I encourage you to join a group and talk to others about it. Always double check and verify the information you find there, of course, but exchanges with others in the same situation is a valuable tool in your arsenal.

The second place to find good information is on a trusted website by a qualified professional who is doing research on the particular condition you are having an issue with. It is both a good thing and a bad thing that doctors have specific areas that they want to focus on. It’s a bad thing because that person is going to often have blinders on things that he or she doesn’t know very much about, which will usually be things that are unrelated to his or her area of interest. This is where I often find problems with primary care physicians and general practitioners. Some of them are amazing and really do keep abreast of all the common problems people face, and those doctors who care about being accurate are usually also very good about sending their patients on to see specialists when they really don’t know what to do about a particular health problem. It’s a wonderful thing when a doctor chooses one small area to devote his or her work to because of the expertise they acquire. But, unfortunately, a human being can only be in one place and geography becomes a factor. As does the numbers game that a doctor can only see so many patients and give them proper attention at once. Luckily, many specialists provide their research online on their websites. So it is important to find doctors who are writing about your condition, being sure to look across as many as you can to ensure you are getting up to date information. Then, at the very least, you have some information in hand when you go to visit your own physician and you have some basis to compare what he or she tells you with what you have already learned.

Ideally, however, you are going to find a specialist who can help you. I find this to be a little challenging sometimes, however, because I am a fan of the most natural approach possible when dealing with an illness, while a doctor may want to prescribe drugs for something. I’ll take medication when I absolutely need it. I take thyroid medication, for example, and I have for many years. But antibiotics are a no-no for me unless I am dying of infection or have a serious problem. As are fertility drugs at the moment unless another six to eight months on my new diet and health regimen don’t prove fruitful. I only take drugs when absolutely necessary. This is just my personal health objective and finding a doctor who agrees with this approach isn’t always easy.

But the good news is that you can also find doctors online. Many online health communities publish lists of doctors that their members have found helpful, along with reviews and comments. Some also publish lists of “bad doctors” and those who were not helpful for a specific condition. I know I usually start my search for a doctor on my insurance company’s website, but it’s been wonderful being able to cross-reference lists of potential doctors with those covered by my insurance. I often cross-reference other lists too because one doctor may have glowing reviews on one site and not so great ones on the other. The list is pretty narrow when I’m finished and I live in a major metropolitan area.

I’ve only just recently come across Dr. Andrew Saul’s website, DoctorYourself.com but I see he has a number of books out so you may know more about him than I do. I think this is an excellent concept and I need to delve more into this website before commenting on it. I really advocate self-awareness in all aspects of a person’s life. As I’ve said before, it is extremely important to be proactive when it comes to one’s health. The more you read and digest and get to know your own body and what is going on with it, the more of a resource you become to yourself. It is then possible to be more discerning with the medical and health professionals you come into contact with. You learn to instinctively know when you should get a second opinion and when a health issue is serious and requires intervention and when it doesn’t. Of course, if you ever have any doubts you should always consult someone qualified, whether it be your doctor or a naturopath or a nurse, but knowing when and for how long to let your body ride with something is valuable information. In the case of someone very close to me, allowing a frivolous specialist and surgeon to interfere with what turned out to be a virus led to him now having a different health condition for the rest of his life due to unnecessary surgery. There are actually a lot of doctors out there who are just in it for the money, or who don’t give pause to things. A lot of things simply get missed in the paperwork and miscommunication or simple laziness do hurt people. You don’t want to be one of those statistics. Once again, I’m NOT advising people against going to the doctor, but be very careful when it comes to blindly following doctor advice without getting second opinions or verifying information ahead of major medical treatment courses or surgeries.

If you have a comment that is related to your own health or have questions that require an answer, please leave these in the community discussion forums and not in the comments below. Thanks! =)

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