Article Date: 11/1/2010

Too Much Information
Street Smarts

Too Much Information

The Internet contains a vast amount of information — much of which is unreliable.

By Dan Beck, OD Leland, N.C.

I RECENTLY HAD an encounter with a patient who had complaints of contact lens discomfort and redness. When I walked into the room and looked at him, I couldn't help but blurt out the word no patient ever wants to hear: Whoa!

It looked as if all of his conjunctival vessels had exploded simultaneously. He explained that he used to remove his lenses at night until he read on online that they were approved for overnight wear. So, he hadn't removed them in more than 6 weeks! In fact, they were still in his eyes as he sat there in my exam chair.

Another patient came in with a raging bacterial eye infection. She said her left eye started itching a few days earlier, so she decided to try a holistic cure she'd found on the Internet. For the last 2 days, she'd been rinsing her eye with a cup of her own urine. I kid you not. She reasoned that urine was sterile. After I explained that urine is “usually” sterile but can become septic, her good eye widened as she admitted to taking another Web-based remedy for a yeast infection. If she had been one of my friends or family members, I probably would have slapped her.

A third patient, a woman I'd been treating for open angle glaucoma, presented one day on the verge of tears. She said her doctor told her to stop taking an incontinence medication because it was contraindicated for patients undergoing treatment for glaucoma. Apparently, her doctor read this somewhere but never took the time to understand that the medication could exacerbate narrow angle glaucoma — not open angle. Thus, even a physician can be a source of misinformation.

These examples illustrate the dark and dirty side of the Web. I'm not talking about Internet porn here but something far worse — misinformation.

Spotty information and flat-out lies are as common — perhaps even more common — than reliable data in cyber-space. In some cases this leads to inconveniences or overspending for consumer goods, it can be harmful or downright deadly for health and medical subjects.

When a patient tells me about something he read on the Internet, I ask him for the source. Of course, patients almost never know where they read about it. And that unknown affords me the perfect opportunity to explain that there's virtually no fact-checking or quality standard for the majority of the websites out there.

Obviously, there are good sites with accurate and helpful information. People want to be informed, especially when it comes to their health. Even the best sites, however, tell users to speak with their doctors or other healthcare providers before implementing any treatment.

Allow your patients to ask anything that's on their minds about their health. Never dismiss their concerns, even if those concerns seem frivolous or irrelevant. If you don't adequately answer their questions, patients will be forced to look elsewhere for help. And if they turn to the Internet, bad things can happen. I know, I've seen it in my office. nOD

Educating patients about the pitfalls of seeking info online, Dr. Beck is a 1993 graduate of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry. You can reach him at dbeck4@ec.rr.com.


Optometric Management, Issue: November 2010