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Consulting Dr. Internet

The Internet is a great source of health information, but it should be used as an adjunct to receiving care from a doctor, not a substitute. CBS This Morning Health Contributor Dr. Bernadine Healy reports on the pros and cons of using the Internet when it comes to health care.

Large health organizations like the National Cancer Institute, the Mayo Clinic, or even the former surgeon general Dr. C. Everett Koop have Web sites that are very good. However, anyone can start a Web site. If you see one belonging to someone you've never heard of, take the information you see with a grain of salt.

While some contend the medical information on the Internet is turning people into hypochondriacs, worrying about our own health is normal. The Internet makes it very easy to look up diseases and research treatments - you don't have to go to the library and go through piles of articles or rely only on your doctor's advice when you have an illness or fear you do.

Much of the information on the Internet is unedited, so there is a lot of misinformation as well as good information. If a Web site belongs to an institution or association you can trust, the information should be trustworthy as well. Use your doctor to help you filter out the good information from the bad.

While some doctors are unhappy when patients come in with information they've found on the Internet, it actually should help the doctor in diagnosing and treating a patient.

A patient who is an active participant in his illness is in a much better position to decide on treatment - he can ask better questions, he can see the pluses and minuses of different treatments. It makes the doctor-patient relationship more of a partnership. A study has even found that people who are armed with more information actually live longer.

Your doctor, especially if he isn't a specialist, can't know about everything. Because your doctor didn't mention the possibility that you may have an illness you read about on the Internet doesn't mean he was keeping it from you.

Trust is an important bond between you and your doctor. If you don't trust him to tell you the truth, get another doctor. Your doctor should welcome the information, not resent it. So go ahead: if you see something interesting on the web, bring it to your doctor.

Be cautious about using the Internet for uses other than finding basic information - such as buying prescription drugs. A recent study found that buying drugs on the Internet can actually be much more expensive than going to a drug store and that there is no way of knowing if the drugs are real or pure or even if they are in the right doses.

Reported By Dr. Bernadine Healy