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I think you and pharyngula are pointing out different aspects of the same process. I think patient education is a big part of my job, but I know colleagues who wish patients would just sit quietly and get better.

Either way, the real value that doctors provide isn't knowledge, but rather judgement. Anyone, even computers, can match symptoms to diseases, diseases to treatments, etc. But you're paying for someone to make those calls for you.

That's why I hold my breath when I have a patient come in with internet printouts. It can mean they're motivated and curious (which is great, and probably improves outcomes) or they've already decided they have some bizarre rare disease and need my prescriptions.

In both cases, the value of my recommendations is still the same. But the patient-doctor interaction is more fruitful in the first case, and that will probably lead to better patient health in the long run.

Nick -

Have to agree with your assessment. Of course encountering someone who has already "solved" their problem via the internet is not just limited to the medical field. It extends to financial advice and other fields as well.

My observation is, more often than not, many have started with a premise, then found references to support their premise and are simply turning to professionals to sanction their conclusion.

In my field (financial services) I can simply dismiss them and hope that eventually they realize their folly and will genuinely seek out sound advice from a competent professional.

In your field (medicine) it is not quite so easy. Their mis-diagnosis can actually cause irrepairable harm.

An educated consumer can be both a blessing and a curse.

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