Walking out of Home Depot today my mind wandered to a hardware store where my folks used to go when I was a little kid in Endicott, New York. I remember tools strewn about and an elderly female shop keeper who didn’t seem to like me and my sticky fingers. DIY home repair wasn’t nearly as easy in those days, but my parents tried anyways. That cantankerous shop keeper had no idea back then that the real threats to her business were Home Depot, Amazon and Youtube.
A friend recently sent me the attached image, so I thought I’d type here in defense of Dr. Google, and to venture a prediction. I believe, just like that disorganized little hardware store of my youth, the more inaccessible, exasperating and expensive our medical system becomes, the more patients will be pushed toward DIY medicine. Frankly, I’m all for it. I know I’m an outlier, but it’s my heritage. I come from a long line of penny pinching, tinkering, fixers. (Not much business sense, but today we give thanks for Vanessa.) Both my parents brought me up taking things apart, somewhat to learn, but hopefully to repair.
Dr. Google takes a lot of flak from the medical world today. But that’s just because he’s only part way through his residency… in everything! However, Dr. Google has one big advantage, namely time. Whereas the medical lifecycle of we doctors is med school, residency, see a few thousand patients, retire, then croak, Dr. Google will continue to learn and refine.
When patients ask me about things they’ve learned from the internet, I don’t mind a bit. In fact, I sometimes learn from my patients this way myself. I got a Pre-R call just a few days ago about Xifaxan for irritable bowel syndrome, which my patient had read about online. Before the call I knew essentially nothing about it. Where’d I go? Google.
Malcolm Gladwell talks about the old days of driving cars. Earliest models used to require “operators.” They were too technical for the commoner. Eventually, however, cars became tools accessible to everyone. Society restricts them to people over 15 for public safety, and we’ll probably continue to restrict meds and medical equipment for public safety as well. But these restrictions will likely evolve also.
In “The Inventors Prescription,” Mr. Christensen talks about the evolution of care for diabetes. At one time it was a death sentence. With insulin it became survivable initially with hospitalization. Today, diabetics are often their own best caregivers.
As understanding improves for many illnesses, and as treatments become simpler, I think the pendulum will swing massively back toward home care and self care. It feels inevitable.
How many other industries have been revolutionized already by Google and the internet? Who uses travel agents any more? Who uses paper maps? Newspapers are fading away. Even Playboy models are clothed now. They just can’t compete!
Trauma, cancer and other chronic illnesses will keep hospitals fed. However, it’s just amazing what can be solved from home now. Home Depot and the internet have made me a better home owner, and I suspect Dr. Google will help patients to make themselves progressively healthier too. Hopefully our Anxiometer will keep nudging Dr. Google in that direction. Perhaps one day you’ll call Pre-R only for the personalized touch of the Ace Hardware experience.