Dr. Google

Upon my dear friend’s diagnosis of a very rare form of cancer my first reaction wasn’t, “Oh no!” or even an f-bomb. The first thing that I remember saying to her is, “Don’t Google.”  (Well, actually, I probably dropped an f-bomb in there somewhere!)

Now I am a stealth, rock star Googler. I love Google. I use it all the time. I even used it when I had FBC. The Internet has gobs and gobs of medical information right at our fingertips. In fact, check out these statistics: More than 70,000 websites disseminate health information…and in excess of 50 million people seek health information online. Wowsy. Bowsy.

However (& this is a BIG HOWEVER!), search engines have a good side and a bad side. Sometimes they can be both good and bad…simultaneously. Uh huh. This then has the potential to generate seriously baffling results during an incredibly confusing time. If you’ve been there, you know…

There are lots and lots and lots of reputable resources for information about FC (f-bomb cancer) online (Silver Lining).  However, the pickle is that the same technology that allows reputable health care professionals and scientists to publish accurate and reliable medical information to the world also allows people to bamboozle by disseminating misinformation, pseudoscience, nonsense, and downright quackery. And, boy, do they ever! In many ways, the bamboozlers are a far more effective online presence than skeptics and supporters of science-based medicine. Just sayin’…

The thing of it is, when information is good, it’s really, really good, and when it’s bad it’s horrid…yes, a la Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead (I still love that poem!).

I digress…So, how to determine if information is of the highest quality?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Begin by asking your physician(s) and nurses for their recommendations for information sources.
  2. Talk with a medical librarian.
  3. Try these reputable sources:

In addition to using your own common sense (e.g., if it looks like a duck and quacks – pun intended! – like a duck, then it’s, well you know…), The Internet Healthcare Coalition (IHC) offers these (great!) tips:

  1. Choosing an online health information resource is like choosing your doctor. You wouldn’t go to just any doctor and you may get opinions from several doctors. Therefore you shouldn’t rely on just any one Internet site for all your health needs. A good rule of thumb is to find a Web site that has a person, institution or organization in which you already have confidence. If possible, you should seek information from several sources and not rely on a single source of information.
  2. Trust what you see or read on the Internet only if you can validate the source of the information. Authors and contributors should always be identified, along with their affiliations and financial interests, if any, in the content. Phone numbers, e-mail addresses or other contact information should also be provided.
  3. Question Web sites that credit themselves as the sole source of information on a topic as well as sites that disrespect other sources of knowledge.
  4. Don’t be fooled by a comprehensive list of links. Any Web site can link to another and this in no way implies endorsement from either site.
  5. Find out if the site is professionally managed and reviewed by an editorial board of experts to ensure that the material is both credible and reliable. Sources used to create the content should be clearly referenced and acknowledged.
  6. Medical knowledge is continually evolving. Make sure that all clinical content includes the date of publication or modification.
  7. Any and all sponsorship, advertising, underwriting, commercial funding arrangements, or potential conflicts should be clearly stated and separated from the editorial content. A good question to ask is: Does the author or authors have anything to gain from proposing one particular point of view over another? Avoid any online physician who proposes to diagnose or treat you without a proper physical examination and consultation regarding your medical history.
When in doubt, pleaaaaaaase ask!  And whatever you do, pleaaaaaaase don’t Google in the middle of the night, alone, because you will inevitably find yourself in the bottomless pit of Google despair, surrounded by misinformation and fear.  There are lots of wonderful resources, beginning with your health care team (Silver Lining). Use them!


Leave a comment


  1. Charlyn Coleman says

    Holly, it's been a while since I've sent you a note. This column speaks to the exact reason I didn't go to the Internet when I was diagnosed. I'm so OCD, I would've driven myself crazy. Your blog was and is the only one I've stayed with. And as for your other readers' info, I'm a nurse-midwife. I was featured in our local newspaper this week and I used your philosophy of "silver linings". Thanks for being there… By the way, I'm scheduled to get the new puppies, as my hunk of a trainer calls them, the end of November. Will keep you posted. Love ya….

    • says

      Charlyn! How FABULOUS to hear from you! What a Silver Lining to my day. Thank you for your kind words and for staying with The Silver Pen. It's loyal readers like you who inspire me every single day. Will be excited to hear all about your new puppies…oh, and the hunk of a trainer. Thanks for your note! 🙂

  2. says

    TMI versus TLI?? We have all heard the saying that you can never have too much information, but I feel that researching through too much info can have us confused and "google-eyed". Once you understand your diagnosis, prognosis, and regimen of treatment from your oncologist you can read some about it, but don't overdo it. Spending too much time on the FBC subject will cause worry and mental fatigue, even depression. You definitely didn't want to major in oncology, specifically FBC. You need all your strength to enjoy the times you feel well and happy with family and friends.

    • says

      "Google-Eyed"….what a FABULOUS expression, Carolee! I couldn't agree more with your great points. Yes…strength comes from a whole lot of places OTHER than the internet. Thanks for your note!

  3. Amy says

    Great post, Hollye! I think that more doctors should direct their patients to sites with accurate information, as you have done, rather than warn people never to consult the Internet at all. (It's too tempting–many people (myself included) can not resist!) I also like mayoclinic.org as a general reference for diseases/conditions, and how they are typically diagnosed and treated.

    • says

      Thanks for your note, Amy! It is indeed tempting and if we don't know where to go, it's easy to get lost! Mayo is also good. Thanks for the recommendation.

      • Kim C says

        I agree, Amy. When a doctor tells us not to refer to the internet at all – it's the first thing I want to do. It would have been great to have had these sites at the time of the diagnosis, but there is no time like the present
        Thank you, Hollye!