There has been a gradual but very important change in the lay
public's attitude to health information. I remember when patients used to tell
me, "You're the doctor; you tell me what to do. That's all the information I
need." Reading about medical news was largely a matter of intellectual interest
or curiosity and rarely related to
one's own health (except for the hypochondriacs among us who are always looking
for and will never find an explanation of their symptoms).
But modern medical research has identified risk factors that can cause all kinds
of disease - from heart attacks, stroke, and cancer to a host of infections -
all of which can be prevented or delayed. So the focus is now on prevention.
More and more men and women realize that "an ounce of prevention" really is
worth more than "a pound of cure." They want to know what makes them tick, and
what to do to preserve their health. For most people, it's no longer simply a
question of diagnosis and treatment of symptoms - both of which used to be the
inviolable prerogative of the doctor.
How does the average patient go about learning about these risk factors and how
to prevent them? It's not as easy as it sounds. For example, everyone knows that
eating lots of fruits and vegetables is good for you, but how much should we
consume, and which ones are better than others? Is there any interaction between
particular fruits and vegetables and prescription drugs? Leafy green vegetables,
for example - as well as garlic and other natural supplements - reduce the
effectiveness of the anticoagulant warfarin. In a similar vein, St. John's Wort
is affected when certain medications are taken with it.
The best way to obtain this kind of practical and important information is a
face-to-face session with your doctor. Unfortunately, these days he or she
doesn't or can't always spend the time needed to tell you all these things. And
even if that were not the case, most patients would hesitate to keep calling
their physicians for an explanation of all the continuously new and changing
medical research findings. So you've got to look elsewhere.
Theoretically, that should be easy. After all, we are living in
an information age. There's more medical "information" available than ever
before - in periodicals, magazines, news reports, radio broadcasts, television
shows, and, of course, the Internet. The problem, however, is that although some
of this information is reliable, much of it is either questionable or
inaccurate. Some of it is driven by hype and self-interest, much of the rest by
ignorance and superstition.