Information Therapy on the Go

“Oh, you’re a doctor.”

That’s a statement that can cause a jolt of fear, depending on the situation, and typically when a family member, friend, or stranger continues with a request for medical advice. And so it came, from a person driving the coach ferrying me during a conference I am attending.

“Maybe you can look at this thing on my skin and tell me what you think of it.”

Jokingly, I said, “So, instead of a tip, you’d like some professional services?”

What I’ve been taught is that this is among the riskiest situations – offering a diagnosis outside of the exam room, outside of the physician-patient relationship. Why can’t patients just go to their own doctor to ask these kinds of questions? I knew the answer to this one already, as we had been talking about the skyrocketing cost of health care in the community I am staying in.

So the trip came to and end, and it was time for me to pay up. I am versed in all of the different ways to compassionately direct people to their nearest health care provider, but this time I decided to try something new, to act like the doctor I act like now, in the era of Information Therapy, delivered in concert with an electronic health record.

I took a look, and said, “Let me write down this term for you. My recommendation is that you take this home, go on line, and find a picture and description of this. If you are not comfortable that this is what you have, or if you are uncomfortable at all in how this feels for you, I recommend that you go see your doctor.” I told him I had a pretty good idea that what he would find online would look like what he had, but that he had to be sure that he agreed. I also gave him the Web site address that had made the Healthwise(r) Knowledgebase available for community use.

He took his “After Visit Summary” as it were, and did the right thing with it – he read it and said, “Is this an ‘a” here?” and re-wrote the words to make sure they were clear to him. I’d say calling me on my bad handwriting was a pretty empowering thing to do, and I was glad he did it. I now have good confidence that he’ll follow-up and learn more. And I will remember that being a physician means being an Information Therapist also. I am imagining what my business card will look like from now on….


Great story!

The last point also raises some good questions: What is an information therapist? Who can be an information therapist? How do we train people to be information therapists–perhaps one of the greatest needs in health care today?

Excellent points. We should strive for this to be trained rather than to be learned by trial and error. I also think the IxT should have a different skill based on role (physician, allied health, etc).


You have done it again. In one brief encounter, outside the exam room, you helped a person make a better health decision, and in partnership with their own physician. I love your strategy of empowering consumers to use information therapy, one patient at a time in the exam room as a physician, one consumer at a time during chance meetings on public transportation, one company at a time based on your work with employers and health care organizations, and one nation at a time based on your upcoming policy work in DC.

Ted Eytan, MD