The doctor is in

Physicians provide free talks about health care

When struck by an ailment, it's easy to type your symptoms into an Internet search engine and anxiously wade through the ensuing list of possible diagnoses and health care tips.

But relying on "Dr. Google" can do more harm than good.

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Dr. Francis Vala, of Lower Lonsdale Medical Centre, says when it comes to medicine the online world can be a well of misinformation.

"I believe, and many other physicians believe, that it's such a critical area to provide reliable, credible, scientific, educational information," says Vala, who sits on the board of the North Shore Division of Family Practice.

Divisions of Family Practice are groups of physicians organized at the local or regional level who work to address common health care goals. The initiative was designed to improve patient care, increase family physicians' influence on health care delivery and policy and provide professional satisfaction for physicians.

Arming the public with dependable medical knowledge is one reason the North Shore division decided to launch a series of free public educational talks.

Vala says the initiative was designed to fill an identified gap in the health care system and improve the overall health of the North Shore.

"We thought, OK, one of the things that's missing is the public education aspect provided by physicians mainly," he says. "One of the biggest reasons for that is that, as physicians, we're all so busy with our practices or in hospital or clinical work that we often don't have the time to provide educational services to the community."

With the help of some government funding, members of the North Shore division have been able to host monthly talks on a variety of health-related subjects.

Vala gave the first talk in late January at West Vancouver Community Centre where he spoke about the medical effect of weight gain on health and medical options for treatment and management. He estimates close to 30 people attended the event.

Attendees are able to ask questions in a public forum that doctors repeatedly hear in the confines of their exam rooms.

"There's obviously many benefits to these public talks and one of them would be that for general, medical, and health-related information you provide information to a large group of patients once and that's pretty much it," says Vala.

He says he plans to host more talks, with an emphasis on preventative measures rather than acute treatment when it comes to physical and mental health.

"(Prevention) is much easier and more cost-effective and productive as opposed to waiting until someone develops major depression or has a heart attack or stroke and then starts dealing with it after the fact," he says.

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