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Why Doctors Are Better Than Google

“One major responsibility of an expert is to know what to ignore.”

Scott Haig, MD

Health information is more plentiful and accessible to patients than ever before. As a physician I am thrilled that people are empowered with knowledge to take control of their health, but I am also sincerely worried about the “misses:” misinformation, misconceptions, misdiagnoses and mistakes.

The great sculptor Michelangelo believed that every piece of marble was a beautiful statue just waiting for the artist to remove the parts that didn’t belong. I believe that this principle applies to health information – the utility of the information is directly proportional to the reader’s ability to ignore the parts that are irrelevant or incorrect. Google cannot remove the irrelevant, because it can’t evaluate the science behind various claims, appreciate the nuances of an individual’s life circumstances, or confirm a diagnosis. No, as powerful and wonderful as search engines are, they are mere marble. The master sculptors in health information are physicians – trained for at least a decade in the art of analyzing data, appreciating the connectedness of various symptoms and body systems, and focused on chipping away at the irrelevant to uncover personalized solutions and cures – they are the artists whose experience and insight can make the difference between life or death.

Are sculptors flawed? Sure. Are some better than others. Yes. But the bottom line is that information in the hands of a person who can apply it in an intelligent, personalized, and relevant way is our best shot at good, quality healthcare. There is an art to medicine, and the trick is to know what to ignore. Find a good sculptor and stick with him/her so that you can live your very best and avoid the “misses!”This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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5 Responses to “Why Doctors Are Better Than Google”

  1. mswallin13 says:

    I fully understand and, philosophically speaking, agree with the point being made by Dr. Jones.? However, in my recent experience with physicians in the Sacramento, CA area, there is a significant practical flaw in her argument.? She presumes that finding a physician who is not so overloaded with patients, or simply disinterested with treating individuals rather than charts, that they are willing to “appreciate the nuances of an individual’s life circumstances” is an achievable task.?

    The physicians I have visited recently not only fail to ask many questions about me as a patient, but don’t even seem to have opened my chart before entering the examination room.? I had a doctor (who displayed a local “Best of” award on his wall)? recommend that I have a routine physical with him at a future appointment.? When I replied that the current visit was a second follow-up to the routine physical he had performed four weeks earlier, he said “Oh…OK…well then we just need to do a round of blood and urine tests”, something he had ordered during the physical examination and we had reviewed in the first follow-up exam two weeks prior.?

    My current doctor does ask some questions regarding my life and health, however I am surprised with how often I have to repeat the same discussions.? While I understand that my expectations of personalized service may be impractical, I feel that I have no choice but to supplement visits to my doctor with online research to determine whether the newest medication I have been prescribed is really necessary.? Furthermore, I find myself not visiting my doctor if my particular health concern doesn’t seem serious to avoid the hassle of making an appointment, waiting for 30 to 90 minutes past my scheduled time, to have a 5-minute meeting where my doctor will look at my chart instead of me.?

    In short, the information I would most like to hear from people in the medical community is how to find a physician who agrees with Dr. Jones and practices medicine like a sculptor.

  2. ValJonesMD says:

    Dear mswallin13,

    You make excellent points… how can sculptors carve the marble in 5-10 minute sessions? I am a fan of the concierge medicine movement (which I discussed recently here on my blog) and feel that this approach (though it has its limitations) allows the luxury of time for those who need it. Perhaps you might want to seek out a family physician who is part of this movement? It can be surprisingly affordable as well. Let me know what you think.

  3. Hashslingingslasher says:

    Good post, Dr. V!

    The Internet alone is not the harbinger of this phenomenon. I think if you look
    back through history as evidence-based medicine emerged, practitioners have
    always had to deal with tribal customs, myths, beliefs and anecdotal cures and remedies
    against treatments that have been show to improve or relieve a given


    This is easy to see if you
    have grandparents who were born in the last century. My paternal grandfather
    swore by his “physic” – generally a cathartic that caused them to “purge” their
    system in an attempt to alleviate whatever ailed him. It was amazing…got a headache? Give me a physic! Got a
    bunion? Physic! Gout crystals? Physic! Anything and everything was cured by
    this laxative. 

    I do think the Internet does make it harder for practitioners and patients
    because of the rapidity of the spread of information. A strategically placed
    blog post, linked to an authentic looking but dubious information source -
    brings misinformation to the fore very quickly.

    Pardon the plug but providers need to embrace trusted source of medical
    information they can refer their patients to. That’s exactly what we’re doing
    here at Revolution Health.

  4. ValJonesMD says:

    Thanks, Chris. Quite a story about your grandpa. I think that even accurate information can be misleading if the diagnosis is incorrect.  (You could be reading a lot of great information about knee arthritis but actually have an infected joint, for example.) That’s why I hope that Revolution Health’s experts will be able to provide the extra navigational help to get people not only to good information, but the right information for them. Of course our experts can’t diagnose or treat – but they can guide people to ask the right questions of their doctor or help them avoid false information.

  5. CharlieSmithMD says:


    Great post.  The best of the e-patient revolution empowers patients through use of information found on the internet; but, you are correct, so much of what is returned on a google search is not founded in evidence or standard medical practice that is confusing at best, and dangerous at worst, for the public to routinely ”consult” the internet without physician guidance. 

    Thanks for bringing this important issue to the forefront. 

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