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Dos and Don’ts of Do-it-Yourself Doctoring

By Gulshan Harjee, MD Email By Gulshan Harjee, MD
August 2014
Dos and Don’ts of Do-it-Yourself Doctoring

It’s Friday night, you are feeling weak, with slight fever and a sore throat. The doctor’s office won’t open until Monday. You have to catch a flight tonight. You could give a $75 copay to the urgent care center, or $200 copay to be seen at the Emergency Room. Or you could wait it out till Monday—if your doctor can see you then—since that copay is only $10.

What to do? Mother always said, drink a glass of orange juice, try a warm shower, take an aspirin, get some chicken noodle soup, then go to bed.

These are daily problems: “My child has the sniffles, should I pick up some Benadryl? Mum said try some warm towels on the forehead first. What next to do?” “After my weekend run I returned with a cramp and tightness in my shin and calf. Mother suggests a turmeric and besan ka atta paste for a couple of days, elevate the foot, and eat some yogurt. What next?”

Mother is your first consultant. What is your second source?

Given our information world—Google, Dr. Oz, etc.—one can feel overwhelmed with information. While it is good to consult and read, remember however, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

Patients often research for hours and bring suggestions from the internet, sometimes stacks of paper, some thoughtful, but much of it lacking any basis or research. A significant amount is observational or focused on untested “natural remedies.” One patient, after some online research, suggested a battery of tests for unrelenting headaches. The tests suggested on the internet site cost $2000 (not paid by insurance!), and it was claimed that they could diagnose any condition that ailed any part of the body.

The internet is flooded with data. Try googling sore throat, fever, nausea, or weight loss, for example. Going through the massive amounts of reading can be an ordeal, and trying to understand medical and scientific terminology can be equally difficult.

Insisting your doctor to follow your plan based on do-it-yourself medical research may have the undesirable consequence that she may lose her objectivity and succumb to your suggestions, especially if this is habitual.

Be informed. Check the sites, but remain objective. Use the sites for information rather than for guiding your physician to a diagnosis. You cannot depend on the site to treat yourself. The human body is a complex machine. A single symptom could be indicative of one problem or a number of problems. Leave the decision-making to the doctor.

After all, your body and health is worth a lot more than a wait for an hour at the doctor’s and a cost of $10 or $75. Your boss can handle your not being there one day. Besides, you may cost him more if you are sick but go to work and end up not being productive.

Someone to talk to:
If you can’t get to your doctor right away, or if s/he is too busy to talk much, consult your pharmacist about medication. Additionally, health insurance companies often provide phone numbers for consultations with nurses.
Sources of good information on the Internet: 

For both prescription and over-the-counter medicines, try the Physicians’ Desk Reference (PDR) online. There is complex organic chemistry and research data, but it is informative and accurate. 

Web MD is a site created by physicians for the public and updated regularly. 

The Medical Library Association evaluates websites based on the following criteria: credibility, sponsorship/authorship, content, audience, currency, disclosure, purpose, links, design, interactivity, and disclaimers, and lists websites that are recommended or are particularly useful, e.g. Mayo Clinic, NIH Senior Health, etc. (https://www.mlanet. org/for-health-consumers). It also offers the National Library of Medicine’s Health Check Tools, the Merck Manual Home Health Handbook, and how to Find and Evaluate Health Information on the Web.


[Gulshan Harjee, M.D., is a board certified internist in private practice with an emphasis on prevention. Please email your health and medical questions for consideration in this column to: gharjee@comcast.net. The material in this column is of a general nature, and must not be construed as specific medical advice. This column rotates monthly along with the Fitness Lifestyle column by Aarti Patel.]

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