We’re using the Internet more than ever – checking email, reading up on the latest news and sports scores, even obtaining health information. But regardless what we find about a malady or illness that may be affecting us or someone else, going online does not replace a personal consultation with a physician.

“Your physician adds the human element,” says Kory Gill, D.O., a Texas A&M Physician and assistant professor of family and community medicine at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. “Your diagnosis reached through the Internet may be wrong, or there may be some particular reason you should not use a certain Internet-recommended treatment that you’re not aware of.”

But that doesn’t stop us from looking. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 80 percent of Internet users, or 59 percent of U.S. adults, look online for health information. Another 17 percent of cell phone owners, or 15 percent of adults, have done the same. The most often researched topics are specific diseases or conditions, treatments or procedures, and doctors or other health professionals.

“The Internet is easier and cheaper than going to your doctor,” Dr. Gill says. “There are thousands of sites offering varied advice – some good, some bad, some even potentially harmful. In fact, there is a recent study that shows those using the Internet had higher rates of depression, which may be due to increased rumination, unnecessary alarm or over-attention to health problems.”

According to Dr. Gill, use the Internet to do “homework” before visiting your doctor. And be concise as possible.

“When patients come prepared, it actually helps the visit be more productive,” Dr. Gill says. “We don’t waste time on the simple questions they were able to find on their own, and therefore get to address their more complex issues. And when they come prepared, they’re less likely to leave and later say, ‘Oh, I wish I would have asked this.’ ”

— Elizabeth Grimm