Demystifying Medicine One Week at a Time

Help Wanted: DIY Medicine

Taking medical care to the self level.

First there were contractors. Then came Home Depot.

Once we had accountants. Along came TurboTax.

Stockbrokers? E-trade.

Printers? Soon we had Kinkos, er, FedEx.

Even venerable old lawyers are being outsourced and replaced by do-it-yourself manuals and online services.

Which brings me to my profession. Medicine.

I’m researching a new frontier in health care: do-it-yourself medicine. As more information is available online, patients are empowered like never before.

The rise of the e-patient movement is one such example. But now, with direct-to-consumer lab testing and radiology, people are able to access medical services and consume them like any other commodity.

I’m interested in learning about people that obtain these services without the consultation of a medical professional.

Caveat: a lot has been written about cyberchondria, google-itis, and patients advocating for themselves and their loved ones with their doctors.

I’m looking for people out there that self-diagnose and treat but make every effort to steer clear of the medical establishment.

Are you such a person? Do you know one?

All information and stories will be held in strictest confidence. We’re trying to gauge the prevalence of this phenomenon in the world.

Comment on the blog or send tips/inquiries to GlassHospital [at] gmail [dot] com.


  1. The problem in India, where I did Critical Care for a year, is that DIY medicine is almost always administered by a woo-mongering relative of the patient (or the patient themselves, rarely). So what it does it that it just makes the whole thing worse. I have seen bizarre forms of DIY “Medicine”. Shaving the heads of neonates (suffering from ARI) to cast off an evil spell. Feeding roots and herbs to Pott’s Spine patients.

    The Medicine bit is short and the DIY bit is long. This might not be exactly what you are looking for, but in my short experience, when the patients tried to do it themselves, they ended up messing things up worse than ever.

    • glasshospital

      October 17, 2011 at 11:50 am

      Thanks for the comment. I’m looking for examples of people that obtain their own lab and radiology tests and take action based upon the results, with or without consulting medical professionals afterward. I’m less interested in complementary/alternative/folk medicine and remedies–there’s lots of information and counter-information out there about that.

  2. I avoid doctors whenever possible (lots of reasons – mainly due to bad experiences). I have never been hospitalized (I had 4 home births with a midwife, and I used my midwife for well woman care for many years). I have investigated symptoms online and treated them without going to an MD for an official diagnosis many times.

    Here is one example: I had a long-time rash on the toes of my left foot, which did not respond to standard OTC anti-fungal treatments. While I was investigating treatment alternatives online, I found a post that stated that long-term elevated blood sugars could predispose to rashes. I figured what the heck and purchased a glucometer to test my fasting and post-prandial glucose levels, which were fine, so no Type II diabetes; I did start low-carb dieting, and the rash did finally go away.

    I have several other examples of dealing with illnesses (that would likely have been self-limiting anyway) on my own. Note that I have worked in hospitals and rest homes as a nurse’s aide, and I have a degree in Biology, which required that I take anatomy and physiology as part of my course work, so I may not be typical of the average lay person.

  3. My guess is that people who self-diagnose and self- treat are not likely to be reading your blog! I am of course thinking of people who have more than a cold or flu or minor problem. How can one be objective enough about oneself, or differenciate between two conditions with similar symptoms. My guess is that if people who self-diagnose and treat get sick enough they’ll come to a trained health-care person but hopefully not too late such as with some Christian Scientists who sometimes show up when terminal.

  4. Akne Behandlingar

    October 26, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Hello. Awesome post and a great blog

  5. The steady creep of non-professional staff making professional decisions. Remember when it was going to be all about health insurance companies staffed with medically trained folks who could legally evaluate drug substitutions? When generic drugs were initially promulgated by the industry, the Wyoming Pharmacy Act (and I daresay most other State Boards of Pharmacy were in on it, too) was interpreted to mean that ALL the following were in concordance a. the patient authorized the substitution, b. the physician authorized the substitution, and c. the pharmacist in their authority authorized the substitution. Little by little the individual pharmacist authority has been usurped by the corporate world, as we recall that our Supreme Court has ruled that corporations can be considered as having rights as individuals. So, like 1984 (oh that was SSSSOOOO long ago) we are all in the business of redefining words with different meanings.

  6. As DL, I use my DIY skills mostly to -avoid- medical care, not to get more. But these are long-term skills, honed in health collectives in the 70s. The net has made it easier for people like me to get info, that’s totally true, no more borrowing med student’s ids to sneak into the library. But the net is not the origin of this distrust of the medical profession.
    Shall I simply mention that I’m a DES baby?

  7. I’m VERY much a DIY patient, and not into woo/herbalism/homeopathy nonsense, either. I have several chronic conditions, including Type 1 diabetes, asthma, Prinzmetal’s angina, GERD and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and am very much in control of my health. That doesn’t mean I don’t take advantage of my doctors’ expertise, but I regard them as partners in my health-care, not as dictators. I do wish I had more freedom in areas where I know what I’m doing, like I KNOW when I have a urinary infection, and I KNOW that Cipro works, and I KNOW that I would need to be seen if I didn’t see an improvement within 24 hours. But for the last 2 infections I had, the doctor’s office tried to put me off for 2 days (can’t afford that; I’m diabetic!), because their schedule was full, and I WAS able to see an urgent care doc, but it would have been so much easier if I had been able to take care of it myself.
    I’m an ardent user of the internet, but I also have an up-to-date copy of the Merck Manual and the PDR, and I never take a med without reading up on it. So I’m willing to help in whatever way you might be able to use my help!

  8. Have you attended any of the Quanitified Self meetings? Check out their web site for videos of people who are self-measuring, self-diagnosing, and self-treating – often my doing n of 1 experiments on themselves. The QS movement is now world-wide.

  9. I’m a DIY person who uses modern medicine when it makes sense. I utilize the services of my doctor when it makes sense. Here is my take on the strengths and failings of modern medicine. A good doctor who can diagnose well is worth his/her weight in gold. If I get an illness/injury etc about which I am unsure (after some research) I will always consult a doctor. If the condition is acute, I will use whatever pharmaceutical/surgical interventions suggested by the doctor. Modern medicine is very good at handling acute situations. If the situation is chronic (e.g. type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure) I am much more skeptical of the long term value of pharmaceuticals. From what I have seen, type 2 diabetes and its resulting lipid disorders for example are much more effectively handled with a low carbohydrate diet than with pharmaceuticals. Early stage Mild to moderate hypertension is often little more than a magnesium deficiency. High cholesterol phobia is little more than a boogeyman created by pharma to sell statins and unless your C-Reactive protein is high, there is little evidence of the efficacy of statins in people without prior heart disease.

    So here is my reportcard on modern medicine and its practicioners

    Diagnosis Skills: Good
    Acute Interventions: Excellent
    Chronic Interventions: Poor

  10. I think it would amaze you how much success I’ve had as an average person with correct diagnosis and treatment of myself and others. I truly believe that it comes down to good instincts, because I don’t have any formal background in medicine. I’ve successfully diagnosed ailments ranging from mundane to very rare.

    In a more practical sense, people might DIY more if they knew what medical equipment can be sold to anyone. You can buy a lot of things direct from the manufacturer, and sometimes it’s cheaper.

    I also don’t think people know what quality medical information is or where to get it. I’m way past the hospital and consumer websites. I start with something like PubMed or online medical journals. When I learned I had a chronic disease (yes, I knew ahead of time), I went to a university bookstore and bought a medical school textbook in the specialty.

    I’m not suggesting everyone take up their own health care to this extent, but I certainly believe from experience that the huge knowledge gulf between patients and doctors is there partly because the patients don’t take enough of a stab at it.

  11. I’ve been a DIY healthcare person for years, taking very good care of my body to avoid interactions with the medical industry. Until I was injured at work a year ago this approach worked very well. In the past year I’ve had surgery & all kinds of subsequent medical interventions. I think the medical system needs to make a radical shift to prevention rather than performing acute care treatment only. The current system does not work well for patients or physicians, but very well for money making corporations. I am not a fan & plan on going back to taking care of myself.

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