The Dangers of Doctor Google

By Sarah Garcia - February 05, 2019

One thing that’s certain to come with any cancer diagnosis is a multitude of questions. As a patient or caregiver, you might be inclined to immediately turn to the internet for answers.

In fact, about one in three Americans uses the internet as a resource for health information. But you might want to think carefully before ‘Googling’ you or your loved one’s cancer diagnosis.

Moffitt Cancer Center psychiatrist Dr. Aliya Hafeez says there is a lot of information on the internet, and the majority of it is from unreliable sources. “There are so many negative and fear-based narratives out there,” she says, “and patients may begin to think their outcomes will be similar.”

If you aren’t careful about where you’re getting your information, you might end up with the wrong information and be unnecessarily stressed or anxious about what is to come.

Your care team should be your primary resource for information related to your diagnosis and treatment.

At Moffitt, Anne Bidelman, manager of the Patient Advisory and Executive Program, recommends all patients take the time to attend Patient and Family Orientation. The 30-minute sessions are often presented by Patient or Family Advisors and provide an overview of the care team and Moffitt programs and support services.

“It takes the ‘mystery’ out of Moffitt,” she says. “Patients often leave the session feeling confident in where they're being treated and their treatment team. Orientation helps to relieve some anxiety about the unknown.”

When addressing feelings or questions about a cancer diagnosis, Bidelman also recommends Imerman Angels. Moffitt partners with this program to offer one-on-one peer support for patients and caregivers.

While Googling your cancer diagnosis is not ideal, most patients want to take an active role in managing their healthcare, and sometimes that means still turning to the internet for insight.

“It’s important for patients to recognize that the information out there may or may not be true,” says Dr. Hafeez. She recommends always following up with your care team to discuss your findings.

For those navigating a cancer diagnosis, the internet can be treacherous territory. Knowing where to turn for accurate and reliable information is critical.

“Our healthcare teams are educated on the most reputable online resources,” says Moffitt nurse Vicki Vann, an Registered Nurse specializing in nursing professional development and patient education.

A healthcare team that is empowered with the right information is fundamental to the patient education process.

“We work closely with patients to provide reputable resources specific to their diagnosis,” says Vann, “also helping them learn to ask appropriate questions when they’re in the clinic.”

When patients are steered in the right direction, the internet can become a practical tool to help support them through their cancer journey.

Here are some guidelines to avoid misleading or inaccurate information:

  • Rely on websites affiliated with government agencies, expert health organizations or academic centers. Click here or check the Moffitt Patient Portal for a list of reputable resources.
  • Check dates to ensure information is up to date. Cancer care and survival rates are constantly evolving.
  • Communicate with your care team about your findings and any questions or concerns you have
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