Caregiver Harbor Advice

3 Things You Need to Know Before Your Medical Information Search
Frank Blood

3 Things You Need to Know Before Your Medical Information Search

One of the scariest moments any of us experience is when the doctor proclaims, “You (they) have cancer and we need to . . .” I don’t remember my first thoughts when he told us about my wife’s condition, but I recall the confusion as we went home to discuss her options. After a few hours we realized we knew nothing about the disease or where it came from; much less what the consequences of choosing one option over another might be.

Sure, the doctor gave us a brief overview and his recommendation – but without learning more, she would be giving up control over her body and her right to do what she felt was best for her. I am much less accepting than my wife when it comes to opinions of others or trusting of their judgement; especially on serious matters. So I embarked on a research journey through the world wide web when my modem speed was 28.8k and my dot matrix printer had trouble after too much continuous use. Yes, today it’s a zillion times faster, but the problems I found myself having are still relevant today because the amount of available information is so much greater.


A blessing and a curse

The internet is immensely valuable; especially as a tool for learning. It has saved me countless hours when I’ve used it appropriately: it has cost me countless hours when I haven’t. Doctors and other health care professionals find it can help them save time educating us about diseases, medications, wellness and the like. People who look up their symptoms and give physicians assistance in the assessment of causes are a great advantage to them. However, people who are preoccupied with their symptoms and become anxious over their findings, cyberchondriacs, are creating more problems for themselves and the ones who try to care for them.

The first trap we encounter when researching something as important as our health is that we can get lost in the details. This was certainly true for me as I found one unfamiliar term after another and did a search on each one of them. My wife needed to make a decision about a course of treatment within a relatively short period of time and she was counting on me to help her decide. But I hadn’t been able to complete my part, which was to sort through all of the medical articles, including pros and cons, because I didn’t know when to quit. I felt that I was missing something – which was true because there are always more questions than answers.

We don’t usually intend to spend an excessive amount of time on our investigations, but sometimes the more we learn the more we want to know. A quest to obtain critical guidance can be very seductive. If our curiosity isn’t satisfied on our personal time, there is a strong desire to continue on company time too. When our coworkers or bosses see us on websites that aren’t job related, they tend to become upset; which may end up being another problem for us to have to handle.


Avoid confusion and bad advice

Time spent trolling the internet probably isn’t the most harmful result of letting our desire for knowledge get out of hand. We can become increasingly more confused as there are so many variables to consider when exploring any medical condition. Also, there are still too many websites that mislead, contain bogus information or just plain lie. Consequently, we may become emotionally drained; which is the last thing any of us need at a time when we want to be at our strongest. Whether we are trying to take care of ourselves or someone else, being mentally fit is an absolute necessity.

One of the best ways to get the most benefit from your online medical advice search is to begin with websites that have the most credibility (.gov and .org) and follow their links. Sites like MedlinePlus ( by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Centers of Disease Control and Prevention ( by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Cleveland Clinic ( are good choices. Avoid support groups and blogs – at least until after a diagnosis has been confirmed.

As with all things caregiving, you should use everything you find to your advantage. Realize that a lot of what you come across, even on the best websites, is information you don’t really need to know. Reading everything is a big waste of time, adds to your anxiety or increases your confusion, and is emotionally trying. Limit yourself to a pre-determined amount of time and use a timer if you have to. Above all, write down any concerns you have and discuss them with your health care professional.

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