May 18, 2013 12:00 am

The new tools are death-defying in their scope and capabilities: Do-it-Yourself health and fitness calculators. Detailed news about prescription drugs that are coming on the market. A less-invasive procedure for bariatric surgery. Minimally disruptive techniques to eliminate chronic pain. Heart health risk assessment. Symptom identifier and wellness management. Effective self-treatments for chronic diseases. Calorie counters and diet trackers. Mobile nutrition analysis with personal online database and photo option. Dental health indicators of conditional diagnoses. Measurement of digestive disorders and gastrointestinal disease.

Enter any of these phrases and you will find millions of entries for each one---forms to fill out, evaluations to study, social networks with a common interest to join. Try entering self-diagnosis and cyberchondria and you will find out that you are on a delusional path that is doomed to fail. Though the web is a rich source of information that has produced a bottomless file cabinet of what we know about potential treatments for the vast array of ailments it is possible to encounter, it is also a vault of true-life experiments and experiences that serve confusion, build fear, circulate rumors about the spread of disease and generate the additional burden of stress.

The very human tendency to identify with symptoms you are studying is well-known: Wikipedia has an entry from Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome in 1889, that describes the author going to the British Museum to read up on hay fever and “I came to typhoid fever---read the symptoms---discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it---wondered what else I had got, turned up St. Vitus's Dance---found, as I expected that I had that too...and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight...”

Yet, the healthcare industry wants us to be more self-reliant, personally responsible and aware of options for whatever symptoms we find troubling. Every physician will urge a patient to get a second opinion, but people usually get second opinions only when they don't like the first opinion, which more often than not is confirmed. Which is not to say that you should not get second opinions, just be honest with yourself about it. (When my doctor recommended I have a colonoscopy, I immediately sought a second opinion. Of course, the second doctor's opinion was that I should have a colonoscopy right away.)

Most workplaces by now have competitive teams engaged in weight loss initiatives because they work. Most primary care physicians want to see their patients at regular intervals, especially if they are hoping to control a chronic illness or correct an imbalance that could be dangerous. This is the kind of relationship building that helps to save lives. Health clubs give gifts to members who bring in new members; it's a win-win for everybody.

In our office, one of my colleagues, lost 20 pounds over several months, one carrot stick at a time. Everyone applauded her announcement. A friend of mine recently walked the Manitou Incline, a mile straight up and three miles down and he put it on Facebook. Lots of likes and comments followed.

When you ask yourself if you should share your treadmill mileage, say yes.

Pat Colander

Associate Publisher and Editor

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