THE PRINTING PRESS AND THE REFORMATION . . . , THE INTERNET AND MEDICAL KNOWLEDGE
The book 1000 years, 1000 People by Agnes and Henry Gottlieb identifies Johannes Gutenberg as the most influential person during the years 1000-1999 AD. Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press in the 1440’s. The Printing Revolution played a key role in the onset of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the rise in literacy, and the spread of ideas and learning throughout the world. The Bible in 1455 was the first book printed in mass quantities, and Christianity was forever changed. Prior to the printing press, the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church possessed most of the handwritten copies of the Bible. Parishioners didn’t read the Bible—their priests did. Sunday sermons were weekly tutorials teaching church-goers the lessons inside the Bible. As soon as the Bible was printed in large quantities, the masses had access to read the book themselves, and the masses had the opportunity to question the Catholic Church’s interpretations. In 1517 Martin Luther published The Ninety-Five Theses and nailed them to the door of the Wittenberg Church, a development acknowledged to have begun the Protestant Reformation, and the Catholic Church’s monopoly on Christian dogma was challenged.
Beginning in the 1990’s a comparable world-changing event occurred, as the widespread ownership of inexpensive and powerful personal computers allowed individuals to access the Internet. According to the Internet World Stats website , in the 21 years since 1995, Internet use has grown 100-fold, and currently one-third of the world’s population has online access.
Just as the printing press made the Bible available to the masses, the Internet makes medical knowledge available to the masses. Prior to the Internet, medical knowledge was primarily confined to medical textbooks and journals, read exclusively by medical professionals. A few non-medical professionals wrote articles in magazines, newspapers, and encyclopedias to explain medical facts, diagnoses, and therapy to the lay public, but the overwhelming majority of the information was only presented to doctors and nurses in the form of medical books and journals.
The Internet has expanded the availability of medical information. Tens of thousands of medical websites exist, and laypeople surf the Internet for medical facts daily. Bupa Health Plus conducted a study in twelve countries, and found nearly 50% of the people seeking medical information on the Internet do so to make a self-diagnosis, and 75% of these individuals did nothing to check the accuracy of the online medical advice. In addition, some patients seek medical knowledge to decide whether they need to see a doctor or not.
Nowadays when patients arrive at a doctor’s office for an initial visit regarding a problem, it’s not uncommon for them to be armed with plentiful information on what their diagnosis might be, what their diagnostic workup should be, and what treatment options they want to have. Nowadays when patients arrive at the hospital for surgery, it’s not uncommon for them to be armed with abundant information on their disease, their pending operation, and even their anesthesia options.
Prior to the Internet, patients had to trust in the knowledge and experience of their doctors to direct the appropriate diagnostic and therapeutic regimen. Now it’s routine for patients to do their Internet homework before they see the doctor.
Some medical websites are invaluable. The National Library of Medicine website PubMed lists the abstracts of all medical publications online for free. Physicians can search by author’s name or other key words. Lay people can access and search medical information with this powerful tool as well.
Other websites are less reliable. There is no quality control regarding medical information on the Internet. Anyone can put medical information on a Web server, and the information posted may be incorrect or outdated. Medical websites may present fraudulent or deceptive information, often in an attempt to sell a product or a service. How can the public discern whether the medical information on the Internet is reliable? In his article Snake Oil: The Accuracy of Medical Information on the Internet Snake Oil: The Accuracy of Medical Information on the Internet, Dr. VN Reddy lists the following advice regarding choosing medical websites:
- Ask your doctor to suggest sites he or she thinks are well-written and accurate.
- Browse the medical professional organizations’ websites. For example, the American Society of Anesthesiologists or the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Browse public-health websites, such as those by the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, or the National Institutes of Health.
- Check each website you read for the author’s name and qualifications and the date when the page was last revised.
A National Institutes of Health website identifies the following key points to determine whether an online source of medical information is reliable:
- Any website should make it easy for you to learn who is responsible for the site and its information.
- If the person or organization in charge of the website did not write the material, the website should clearly identify the original source of the information.
- Health-related websites should give information about the medical credentials of the people who have prepared or reviewed the material on the site.
- Any website that asks you for personal information should explain exactly what the site will and will not do with that information.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission are federal government agencies that help protect consumers from false or misleading health claims on the Internet.
The Internet is a valuable tool to expand your medical knowledge. I use it every day, and I probably learn more from the Internet than from any other source. However, this valuable tool must come with a disclaimer. In the 20th Century we were warned, “don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper. Today that advice can be expanded to “don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.” Read only reputable medical websites for your medical information, and above all, rely on your own doctor(s) to manage your medical problems.
Published in September 2017: The second edition of THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN, Dr. Novak’s debut novel, a medical-legal mystery which blends the science and practice of anesthesiology with unforgettable characters, a page-turning plot, and the legacy of Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan.
In this debut thriller, tragedies strike an anesthesiologist as he tries to start a new life with his son.
Dr. Nico Antone, an anesthesiologist at Stanford University, is married to Alexandra, a high-powered real estate agent obsessed with money. Their son, Johnny, an 11th-grader with immense potential, struggles to get the grades he’ll need to attend an Ivy League college. After a screaming match with Alexandra, Nico moves himself and Johnny from Palo Alto, California, to his frozen childhood home of Hibbing, Minnesota. The move should help Johnny improve his grades and thus seem more attractive to universities, but Nico loves the freedom from his wife, too. Hibbing also happens to be the hometown of music icon Bob Dylan. Joining the hospital staff, Nico runs afoul of a grouchy nurse anesthetist calling himself Bobby Dylan, who plays Dylan songs twice a week in a bar called Heaven’s Door. As Nico and Johnny settle in, their lives turn around; they even start dating the gorgeous mother/daughter pair of Lena and Echo Johnson. However, when Johnny accidentally impregnates Echo, the lives of the Hibbing transplants start to implode. In true page-turner fashion, first-time novelist Novak gets started by killing soulless Alexandra, which accelerates the downfall of his underdog protagonist now accused of murder. Dialogue is pitch-perfect, and the insults hurled between Nico and his wife are as hilarious as they are hurtful: “Are you my husband, Nico? Or my dependent?” The author’s medical expertise proves central to the plot, and there are a few grisly moments, as when “dark blood percolated” from a patient’s nostrils “like coffee grounds.” Bob Dylan details add quirkiness to what might otherwise be a chilly revenge tale; we’re told, for instance, that Dylan taught “every singer with a less-than-perfect voice…how to sneer and twist off syllables.” Courtroom scenes toward the end crackle with energy, though one scene involving a snowmobile ties up a certain plot thread too neatly. By the end, Nico has rolled with a great many punches.
Nuanced characterization and crafty details help this debut soar.
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