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Medical Internet sites change doctor/patient relationship

Is WebMD replacing MDs?
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Just before Paula Boyce retired from her job as a nurse at the Auburn Medical Clinic in 1996 she hardly ever used the computer. Today, Boyce, of Rocklin, is able to interact with her doctor and learn about medications online. She is one of many local patients who say they are taking a proactive stance on their health, by educating themselves on the Internet. Doctors agree that medical information being available online has changed the relationship between doctors and patients, for better or worse. “I do for medicine, to find out about medicines,” Boyce said. “I am a retired nurse, so I don’t put anything in my body I don’t know about.” Sandee Bodding, of Rocklin, uses the site WebMD to learn about diagnosis and drug interactions. “If someone has a diagnosis in the family or a special medication is prescribed, I’ll type it into WebMD,” Bodding said. For her mother, Bodding has taken a list of 20 or so prescriptions and researched how they could interact with one another. In one case, she found out going off of a medicine too quickly could be very dangerous. Bodding said she also enjoys having access to her own healthcare provider online, though she still likes to receive mail from them. Dr. James Wolf, of Auburn, a family medical physician with Sutter Medical Group, said using the Internet to research health could be problematic. “I’ve been in practice for 23 years,” Wolf said. “And looking at the patient population over 23 years, with the onset of the Internet and the ability to access health information, there have been more and more people that try to diagnose problems and after they have been diagnosed seek to educate themselves.” Wolf said while becoming educated on a diagnosis from a doctor can be helpful, patients can cause themselves unnecessary anxiety by trying to diagnose themselves. “There are people that can handle information and people who can’t handle information,” Wolf said. “A lot of all of this is doing is increasing anxiety before you see your doctor and in the meantime you get yourself worked up to the level where you can’t function.” Another problem that has risen with the rise of Internet medical sites is the demand for more testing, according to Wolf. Often times this mentality disrupts the doctor/patient relationship. “What is not appropriate is for a patient to demand tests when they feel they have brain tumor, when that’s not necessarily been the appropriate test,” Wolf said. “Rather than it be a relational work-up, it becomes a one-sided work-up. That is not appropriate. It’s totally dependent on your relationship with your physician. If your physician determines that you don’t need a test, you have to have a level of trust with them.” Wolf said that those who don’t trust their physician to make those decisions should consider finding a new one. Extra tests are also putting a burden on costs, according to Wolf. “It has caused problems in the medical profession,” Wolf said. “You also see the system start to cave on itself because of lack of funds, many may be unnecessary.” In simple medical cases, where a home remedy might do the trick, Wolf said the Internet can be a good resource. He recommends institutional websites from Johns Hopkins University and Medical Center and the Berkeley Wellness Center, as well as WebMD, for their reliability. One of Wolf’s patients, Jim Readle, of Auburn, said he uses the Internet to interact with Wolf more quickly, rather than searching websites for medical information. Sutter Health Online also keeps track of his test results and progress. In the past he has used WebMD for information on more minor ailments, like rashes and sprains. “I would never diagnose myself over my physician. After you go to the doctor at least you can get more information” Readle said. “Ignorance is not an excuse anymore.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com.