Monday, January 24, 2011

Medical Advice

Librarians and medical advice just don’t mix, unless the librarian also happens to be a practicing medical doctor (but that much cool may not be possible in one person).  Whenever someone asks me for medical advice (whether at a library or elsewhere), I usually suggest that person see a doctor.  I may direct them to some online resources, such as the Mayo Clinic, if it’s just curiosity or databases, such as MedLine or CINAHL, if it’s for research.  But I also caution against self diagnosis and utilizing online medical resources for treatment options. 

I also warn people away from medical chat and discussion boards.  If you need support for a condition, fine.  But don’t ever use one of those for diagnosis.  I’ve had people tell me they use Yahoo! Answers for medical advice.  I never know whether to laugh or cry when I hear this.

This is another place where critical thinking skills and information literacy come in handy.  An information literate person with critical thinking skills is better equipped to recognize the BS in many medical websites.  That person is no better at diagnosing or treating illness than others (unless we’re dealing with a medical professional), but sometimes recognition of bad resources is good enough to avoid a catastrophe.

I bring this topic up because I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow and because I need to learn to follow my own advice.  I’ve spent the last few days looking online for answers and utilizing symptom checkers.  If I believe what I’ve found online, I should have been dead a few days ago, and I may have two dozen different medical conditions.  It’s enough to make a person a hypochondriac.  My own online search reminded me about the problems of medical information literacy and self diagnosis.  Right now I do know for a fact that I’m suffering from information anxiety and overload (and that is something librarians are qualified to diagnose…sometimes). 

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