I came across Susannah Fox’s recent blog entry: (e-patients: Flashback to 2001) where she uploaded a PDF of the American Medical Association’s Press Release of Resolutions for 2001 (you can link to it directly here), which included a resolution to “trust your doctor, not a chat room.”
She said she posted it by the popular demand (of one), but I also was glad she posted it (so increase the count to two, Susannah!), and followed the link to another blog post that was critical of her presentation at the Health 2.0 conference. In that post, the author said, “is Fox actually disagreeing with those who think it wiser to seek advice from physicians than to take seriously medical advice received from anonymous strangers in internet chat rooms?” and I wanted to comment on this as someone sitting in the audience (and who got to catch up with Susannah shortly before she went on stage – ok, so I am disclosing that I am a fan).
I think what Susannah was responding to, and somewhat verified in David Rothman’s post is the binary-ness of the argument, that it’s either your doctor or the Internet, not both. The first question I ask when I wonder about behavior is (in true LEAN tradition) “why?” Why would a patient access information outside of their physician relationship? We can guess at many reasons, including that they don’t have access to a doctor, or the doctor they do have access to has not given them the information they are looking for. At some level, there is a trust issue involved, and if we use the Edelman Trust Barometer as one piece of data, it is that patients are more likely to trust “someone like me” than their doctor. It’s impressive that we’ve come to this.
Rothman goes on to discuss the virtues of Medline Plus as a place to get authoritative information and “I do not believe that online resources collaboratively created by patients will solve the problems and dangers of healthcare misinformation online.” Again, I think it is the “it is or it isn’t” aspect that we have to be careful of. To Rothman’s comment, I would say, “Is that true 100% of the time?” And I thought about this a bit more as I pulled out a study I have been waiting to read for some time:
Williamson IG, Rumsby K, Benge S, Moore M, Smith PW, Cross M, et al. Antibiotics and Topical Nasal Steroid for Treatment of Acute Maxillary Sinusitis: A Randomized Controlled Trial [Internet]. JAMA. 2007 Dec 5;298(21):2487-2496.[cited 2008 Mar 13 ]
The study is, I would say, on the incredible side. It challenges one of the most commonly held notions in primary care, that sinus symptoms should result in antibiotic treatment, and shows that prescribing amoxicillin for the most commonly used criteria to diagnose sinusitis was no better than a placebo (sugar pill). I imagine the signficance of this, considering that the average physician may see at least one case of these symptoms each week and the antibiotic cost yearly is $2.4 billion in the U.S. Not to mention that these antibiotics are now in our water supply.
So I next went to Medline Plus, to the Sinusitis topic, to look for the information that says that antibiotics have no effect on the condition in most cases, and that diagnosis itself is questionable.
No such mention. Is this surprising considering that the average piece of research takes 17 years to find its way into medical practice? I won’t go into why that is here; however, the point is that even the most infallible official resources can be fallible. All that this means is that we should always as “why?” and support our patients asking “why?” also. Of interest, I found out about this peer-reviewed study in the blogosphere, not on PubMed or Medline. We should leave the door open to the idea that patients may just help us reflect on better ways to treat them that are less costly and less harmful to themselves and the environment. It’s a continuous spectrum, not a binary switch.
What about American Medical Association 2001?
I also wanted to comment on Susannah’s use of the press release, which is very important and useful. We have to know where we came from so we can move ahead together. The same year that the press release came out, the American Medical Association also published another piece, “Geraghty K. Historical Postmortem, March 2001 (The Telephone). Jama 2001. (link fixed 03/13/08)” In that piece, my profession’s history with the telephone was discussed – it took 80 years for the telephone to become accepted in modern medicine. But it’s accepted now. And one day, the Internet will be, too. We’re really only 8 years into Internet-enabled health care (using my own organization as the example).
What Susannah presented was what it was: American Medical Association 2001. That’s not the same as American Medical Association 2008. Organizations grow and change. I’m confident that the medical profession will grow and change and use the best tools out there to help our patients. We came from barbers, after all. And I’ve never met a physician that wanted to provide bad health care to their patients.