Dr. Google is alive and well, and your doctor hates it.

While your doctor is annoyed to hear you talk about your google research, I will tell you why they are wrong to feel this way.

Why Doctors Hate Your Google Search

As a practicing doctor, I admit that I do understand the common feeling held by many colleagues. Any licensed medical doctor has formally studied medicine for a minimum of 11 years after high school. Some doctors (neurosurgeons for example) study for as many as 15 years after high school. Most have lost years of quality time with friends and family. They have wore themselves down physically and emotionally, sometimes staying awake for 30 hours at a time during training. Along with this, they have  gone into an average of $200,000 worth of debt to become a doctor. When it’s all said and done, a doctor will spend an average of 40,000 hours training to practice in their field.

That’s equivalent to 20 years of full time work.

For the rest of their career, doctors work an average of 59.6 hours per week.

The average doctor’s career ends at age 65. If they finish their residency at age 29, they will have spent 36 years working almost 1 ½ times more than most other Americans.

In other words, it would normally take 54 years to do the work that doctors do in 36.

By the end, doctors have arguably earned the right to be viewed as the expert in their field. You may understand, then, why many feel annoyed (at best) or feel insulted (at worst) when a lay patient compares their handful of minutes to hours researching a health topic through google to the doctor’s decades of training in the same area.

Again, that doesn’t make your doctor’s opinion right or even fair, but these are in fact the common feelings felt by many doctors when your bring up your internet research.

What Most Doctors Don’t Get About Your Online Research

What most doctors fail to realize about patients, who rely on Google searches for medical information, is that they are desperate to fill in the gaps of their knowledge about their own bodies. How can wanting to be more informed about your body be a bad thing?

The patient ultimately has more at stake because it is their health on the line, not the physician’s. A doctor may have empathy for a patient’s health situation, but they are not the one who lives in the patient’s skin.

Also, I challenge the assumption that despite our decades of training, we are the inarguable experts on all the conditions our patients carry. Despite the endless hours of training, we may have only dedicated an hour or two on a particular disease, especially if it is uncommon. Meanwhile, a patient lives with their chronic illnesses day in and day out. They have earned their “degree” in their illnesses the hard way — through life experience. And there is no substitute for that.

Once more, patients have good reason to think twice about the advice given to them by doctors. After all, medicine has a long history of abuses toward patients that persists to this day. Patients, especially those from vulnerable groups, including LGBT, low-income, African-Americans and the disabled, often receive substandard care from the people whose job it should be to care for them. These groups face judgement, lack of appropriate accommodations, language barriers and outright dismissal on a regular basis. Dr. Google, then, becomes a beacon of hope. It’s a source of knowledge, albeit not always reputable, but anonymous and easily accessible nonetheless. And until we have a system that actually serves them well, this source is here to stay.

Dr. Google is Not the Enemy

In the end, Dr. Google is not the enemy. Dr. is a symptom of the overwhelming skepticism, and mistrust patients have for the healthcare machine. And for good reason — the healthcare system is failing to meet their needs each and every day. Healthcare has become more a business than an institution dedicated to healing. It has become more about moving sick people through the “assembly line” than slowing down, listening and working to give patients exactly what they need to heal and thrive.

While doctors and patients are often pitted against each other in our system, know that many of us doctors are as frustrated about the state of healthcare as you are. Believe me. Many of us look on helplessly as insurance companies, layers upon layers of administrators and healthcare leaders, who never so much as look at a patient in the face, call the shots.

So keep on researching. Just be open to what your doctor says too. The only way we can change the system is by working together — and remembering that we should all ultimately be on the same side.


Dr. Brittani James

Brittani James, MD is an Academic Family Medicine Physician who teaches medical students and residents and practices on Chicago's South Side. She co-founded Med Like Me with her twin sister Dr. Brandi. Read their inspiring comeback story From Self-Doubt to MD. Feel free to send Dr. Brittani a message here.

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