Top Docs 2008 Part II: What to Know

Last year some 122 million Americans were tapping away on laptops, sifting through newspapers, and talking with friends in pursuit of that rarest of healthcare commodities: peace of mind. That’s according to the Center for Studying Health System Change, which reports that more than half of us sought information about a medical concern from sources other than our doctors in 2007, up from 38 percent in 2001.

That’s not lost on local M.D.s. “We’ve absolutely seen a change in the way patients prepare for visits, coming in with questions and printouts they’ve collected from the Web,” says Dr. Margaret Sullivan, an OB-GYN at Tufts Medical Center. “There’s a lot of misconceptions and misinformation out there, yet overall I think it’s a good thing, that you’re participating more in your own care.”

Yet all this data can have a startling downside: patients actually acting as their own PCPs. “Increasingly, people are arranging on their own to see multiple specialists,” says Dr. Dale Magee, immediate past president of the Massachusetts Medical Society. “But that often results in a bunch of doctors who don’t talk to each other, and a lot of dangerously mixed-up prescriptions.”

So take down your shingle. Even better, don’t hang it up in the first place. Smart patients use the Web critically; they also log off and seek advice from real people. But most of all, they find (and hang on to) a good physician who can keep track of the big picture.

On-Site Consults
Local M.D.s give their opinion on five popular health-information websites.

Boost Your Testing I.Q.
Before you schedule that screening, make sure it’s one you really need.

“I’ve Got What?”
Boston’s in-house hypochondriac, Francis Storrs, takes a break from palpating his neck glands to test-drive three automated diagnosis dispensers.

Web-Exclusive: Patients Like You
How one Massachusetts woman is connecting with people worldwide with unique expertise in her illness.

Web-Exclusive: A Blogosphere Check-up
New England’s leading online scribe, Dr. Kevin Pho, tags some of his favorite medical blogs.

Where to Get…
Research help in the bricks-and-mortar world.