a mash-up of data & illness
…or, why we’re now all digital hypochondriacs.
I’ll admit that the first thing I did when I threw out my back last summer –as soon as I could stand it from the pain– was to prop up my laptop computer at the end of my pillow, position myself into the least uncomfortable position I could find that still allowed me to type, and then Googled “back pain.”
Back pain, I learned, is a serious condition (you don’t say?) except when it’s not, and that you can treat it by doing a variety of strengthening and stretching exercises (which I tried) except when you shouldn’t. There are whole lot of medications, painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and topical therapies you can try (which I purchased) except when you shouldn’t do any of those things.
Did I say serious? I meant complicated. And I meant to mean that I probably shouldn’t have been one of those guys who self-diagnosed and self-treated a potentially (or maybe not so potentially) devastating injury.
We all do it, though. I read doctor blogs and listen to call-in radio shows with doctors who are learning about a whole new field of patient treatment: getting past the internet cloud of mis-information that clutters minds with preconceived notions of I’ve-already-diagnosed-this-myself-itis.
And I kick myself (or was that a sciatic nerve stretch?) that I’m the kind of self-crediting rational-thinker who doesn’t do that kind of thing. But I do, too.
I’m not a doctor, but I work in a field where a similar type of problem occurs –albeit one where no lives are on the line and I doubt I’d ever get sued for getting something wrong: web design. And the biggest beef web designers tend to have is that a client either knows (a) nothing whatsoever, not really even the reason they think they want a website other than someone suggested it and now they’ve hired you or (b) nothing but thinks they know everything, and come into the process with an exacting idea of what they think the end product should be and –dammit– you’re going to build this no matter how impossible or unusable or maintenance-resource-intensive it is going to be when it’s done. I prefer the first type, but I’ve been meeting more and more of the latter.
Doctors and web designers, both of us, deal with clients who have figured out a problem on their own and are looking for justification and validation. (Thanks internet.) The problem is that doctors, web designers, and probably a thousand other fields of service, support, or care are based on a problem-solving approach.
This approach is simply that a client has a problem: and an expert is called in to solve that problem.
The new problem is related: the old approach doesn’t work very well when the client thinks that they already have the solution. It’s not good for the expert and it’s not good for the client… but mostly the client, because they’re not getting the best solution they could be.
In web design, a crappy solution give you a crappy website.
In medicine, a crappy solution could leave you dead… all thanks to the internet, and the rise of terrible patients (like me) who vainly try to self-diagnose.