Wednesday, October 08, 2008

October 8, 2008 - Better Living Through Web Crawling

There have been lots of technological developments in recent years that have revolutionized cancer treatment. One of the most revolutionary of all, though, is a change whose impact is indirect, even as it is massive.

You’re participating in it right now, as you read these words. It’s the Internet.

A September 29th article
in the New York Times highlights the many different ways patients deal with this vast ocean of medical information at their fingertips:

“Information gives some people a sense of control. For others, it’s overwhelming. An acquaintance of this reporter, a New York father coping with his infant son’s heart problem, knew he would be paralyzed with indecision if his research led to too many choices. So he focused on finding the area’s best pediatric cardiologist and left the decisions to the experts.

Others, like Amy Haberland, 50, a breast cancer patient in Arlington, Mass., pore through medical journals, looking not just for answers but also for better questions to ask their doctors.

‘Knowledge is power,’ Ms. Haberland said. ‘I think knowing the reality of the risks of my cancer makes me more comfortable undergoing my treatment.’”
(Tara Parker-Pope, “You’re Sick. Now What? Knowledge Is Power,” New York Times, September 29, 2008)

My personality type is obviously closer to the second of these two patients than to the first. One of the first things I did, even before my diagnosis was definite, was to high-tail it to library. What I couldn’t find on the library shelves, I began searching for – voraciously – on the internet. Before long, I had a basic knowledge of lymphoma and the underlying biological systems that are affected by it. My doctors know vastly more than I, of course – I never pretend otherwise – but at least we’re able to converse together with some degree of mutual understanding.

Not everyone’s like this. I know some fellow patients who put themselves, wholly and completely into their doctor’s hands, saying, “Please don’t overwhelm me with details, Doc. I trust you, and I trust you to tell me what I need to know about my condition.”

There’s no right or wrong here. It’s a matter of style.

Vive la difference.


Ronni Gordon said...

I agree with the importance of gathering all the information you can, but given all that's on the Internet, you sometimes stumble onto too much information. That's what happened when I looked up CMV on the Internet. I wrote about it yesterday.
Keep up the good work!

Wendy S. Harpham, MD said...

I agree that some patients do better by gathering as much information as possible (so-called information junkies) and others do better by leaving the decision-making to their healthcare professionals.

Unfortunately, sometimes patients' style works against them. Patients need to learn a minimum amount to understand their choices when their physicians make recommendations. And it means learning how to recognize and respond properly to signs and symptoms that develop between office visits.

The key is to learn ENOUGH, not everything. For some patients, enough is more than they'd like. Ignorance is NOT bliss when it means closing the window of opportunity to improve the outcome.

With hope, Wendy

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