Doctor on Call: Your Guide to Online Healthcare
Getting Health Information Online
About five months ago, I woke up with a tickle in my throat. I didn't feel sick and my temperature was normal, but every time I swallowed, it felt as if a grain of sand were stuck somewhere near my tonsils. I looked in the mirror and said aah -- and to my surprise, I saw a row of six bumps on the back of my tongue.
Thought number one: I had contracted some bizarre STD of the mouth (even though I was in a long-term monogamous relationship). Thought number two: Oh my gosh, it must be throat cancer (although I hadn't touched a cigarette in ages).
I canceled my date with the stairclimber and headed straight for my computer, where I typed "bumps on tongue" into Google. I jabbed "enter" and 934,000 Web pages popped up. After clicking through message boards on which similarly freaked-out people had written in about the exact same problem, this is what I learned. According to the Internet, I had enlarged circumvallate papillae taste buds, a term used to describe bumps that form a small V where your tongue meets your throat and apparently swell from time to time for no good reason. I double-checked in the mirror to make certain that mine formed a V, and sure enough, they did. My heartbeat slowed and I decided I'd make it to the gym after all (and that I didn't have to waste my time or money on a doctor's appointment).
According to a study by Manhattan Research, a drug and healthcare market-research company, 145.7 million Americans went online in 2008 for health-related reasons, and 70 percent of those surfers consulted the Internet for health information at least monthly.
Now the Web is expanding into new terrain: assessing not only your potential illnesses but also the physicians you pay to prescribe a cure. Just a few clicks and you're able to uncover some decent dirt on your doc -- his med-school track record, papers published, comments from peers. But as with online health advice, knowing which sites are reputable and which are based on rumor is key.
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