Medical information used to be exclusively contained in the hallowed, yet disturbingly heavy volumes of printed page. Books like Gray’s Anatomy and Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine have been cornerstones in schools of medicine for generations. Medical encyclopedias were just as readily available to laypersons wishing to further their medical knowledge. Today, such volumes are nearly obsolete as both medical practitioners and patients are far more likely to consult online information such as Rxlist.com, WebMD, or even Wikipedia. SiriusXM’s Doctor Radio, and shows such as The Dr. Oz Show are also common medical informational sources. These resources offer convenient 24-hour access and only require a radio, TV, computer, or mobile device to display the information.
Yet despite all of this, medical information is but one aspect of medicine and by itself falls so dramatically short of even the most basic definitions of sound medical advice and thus good medical care. Simply put, medical advice is all the relevant medical information found in the aforementioned resources, but specifically tailored to a single patient by a specific healthcare practitioner. He or she has been formally educated to apply medical knowledge with the use of the tried and true methodical, scientific investigative process known as the physical exam in order to arrive at a diagnosis. I will discuss the whole physical exam process in my next column. However, as a physical exam can only be conducted face to face, the (in)convenience of such an encounter is easy to each person to evaluate.
The information revolution certainly stunned the world by making the immediate access to worldwide news, information, and dialogue available to nearly everyone. All forms of communication have their limits and these new forms are no different. Sadly, as communication evolved, medical science was caught up in this phenomenon with all the forethought and grace of an inexperienced swimmer caught in an ocean undertow. As convenient as access to medical information via the Internet, mobile devices, TV, radio may be, they will never nor should they ever replace nor compromise the medical advice found only in the uniqueness and sanctity of the face to face encounter (as inconvenient as it may be) between a patient and their primary health care provider.
Richard O’Bryan, a volunteer columnist for the Irrigator, is a nationally board-certified and licensed physician assistant and former Patterson paramedic who practices at the Patterson First Care clinic. Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor. Readers can email questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.