9 Things Your Primary Care Doctor Knows (That the Internet Doesn’t)

Woman at a computer - 9 Things Your Primary Care Doctor Knows (That the Internet Doesn’t)

Have you ever used online symptom checkers to self-diagnose? Perhaps you felt reassured — or frightened — by an internet diagnosis that seemed to match your situation. But then you sought confirmation from your primary care doctor, only to learn the information from your online resource was wrong or incomplete.

If you have, you're not alone. Many people turn to the internet for health advice, but not all is reliable or accurate. That's why it's important to have a primary care physician who knows you and your medical history. If you don’t have one, use our online search to find a primary care provider near you who is taking new patients.

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A primary care physician (PCP) is more than just a person who treats you when you're sick. They are also your partner in preventing and managing chronic diseases, coordinating your health care with specialists and other medical professionals, and helping you make informed decisions about your health.

Here are 9 things primary care doctors know that the internet doesn't:

1. The right questions to ask

The medical advice you find online is only as good as the search query you use to seek it. "Dr. Internet" is not a medical doctor and has no idea whether the questions you are searching for are really the best ones to ask. Your primary care provider will know from experience what discussion to have with you to zero in on the real problem — and it might not be what you thought it was. 

2. Your medical history

Your primary care physician has access to your entire medical history, including past illnesses, surgeries and medications. Your doctor will also ask you about your lifestyle, habits, allergies, medications, vaccinations and any health problems that run in your family. This information helps them assess your risk factors and tailor your care to your specific needs.

For example, if you have a history of allergies, an online search might not be able to tell you if your current symptoms are due to an allergy or something else. The internet also doesn't know about any allergies you might have developed recently or any medications you might be taking that could interact with other medications. Your PCP, on the other hand, can access your medical records and see all this information.

3. Your family medical history

Your family history can also be important for diagnosing and treating your condition. For example, if your parents or siblings have a certain disease, you are more likely to develop it yourself. The internet cannot tell you about your family history or interpret it correctly. By contrast, your primary care provider can help you understand your family history and how it might affect your own health outlook.

4. Your physical exam findings

Your doctor will perform a physical exam that checks your vital signs, heart, lungs, abdomen, skin and other parts of your body. The internet can’t help you with that. Your primary care physician will also order tests such as blood work, urine analysis or imaging studies if needed. These results can reveal clues about your health that may not be obvious from your symptoms alone.

5. Your lab tests 

Your personal doctor may order lab tests to help diagnose your condition. These tests can measure your blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, kidney function and other important data. The internet can’t order lab tests, nor can it interpret lab tests in the context of your medical history. Your primary care doctor can use your lab test results to accurately diagnose your condition and develop a personalized treatment plan.

6. The best treatment options for you

Your primary care physician will explain the pros and cons of different treatments for your condition. They will consider your preferences, values, lifestyle, goals and expectations. They will also discuss the potential side effects, interactions, costs and outcomes of each option. Your PCP will help you weigh the benefits and risks and choose the best course of action for you.

7. Your follow-up plan

Your primary care provider will monitor your progress and adjust your treatment as needed. They will also advise you on how to prevent complications and recurrence of your condition. They will remind you when to come back for check-ups, screenings or referrals, and will be available to answer any questions or concerns you may have along the way.

8. Clinical experience with real humans

Your primary care doctor has years of medical school, training and experience to diagnose and treat a wide range of medical conditions in real-life situations. They use this expertise to help you get the best possible care. "Dr. Internet" doesn't have this training and experience and might not be able to give you the most appropriate medical advice.

9. Your individual needs

Your physician knows you as a person, not just a patient. They understand your lifestyle, your concerns and your goals for your health. This allows them to tailor your care to your individual needs.

The internet doesn't know you as a person, can’t help you feel comfortable with its advice, and might not be able to recommend the care that’s best for you. Your primary care doctor can help you make lifestyle changes that can improve your health and can also help you manage chronic conditions.

In addition to the things mentioned above, your primary care doctor can also:

  • Provide preventive care, such as vaccinations and cancer screenings.

  • Help you manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

  • Refer to specialists they trust when needed.

  • Coordinate your care with specialists and other health care professionals.

  • Advocate for you in the health care system.

As you can see, there's a lot more to diagnosing and treating a health problem than just typing in a few keywords on a search engine. While the internet can be a useful source of information, it can also be misleading, confusing or even harmful if used without caution. So, if you are feeling sick, don't go to the internet first. Go to your primary care doctor.

Find care with online search and scheduling

There is one way the internet can help you handle routine health needs, manage chronic conditions and improve your health — by connecting you with a BJC Medical Group primary care provider near you taking new patients.

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Need same-day care for a minor illness or injury?

  • Consider consulting a virtual care BJC doctor by phone, tablet or computer.

  • Save your spot in line at one of BJC Medical Group’s Convenient Care locations.

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