Information on the Internet

I imagine that when patients enter a physician’s office and makes demands for specific medications after being influenced by an advertisement is perpetually frustrating for those physicians.

And don’t you just love the disclaimers? Overlaying the happy scenes of grandparents skipping along the beach with grandchildren, a serious narrative voice quickly says something like, “This medication may cause frequent vomiting, urination and even death! Stop taking the medication if you notice vision loss or blood trickles out of your ears…”

What this points to is a loss of context. Patients who ask for medications viewed on television typically don’t have a medical degree; they’ve not practiced medicine, and what little they know about whatever ails them they may have learned on the Internet or by watching television. And in today’s age of misinformation, who knows what can happen! That’s enough knowledge (even if false) to make them a danger to themselves.

I sometimes encounter this in my law practice. Suppose that a client is interested in forming a charitable remainder trust, so he researches it on the Internet. Which is fine. Learn all you can. I just hope that he realizes the information he’s pulled up may be dated, it may be taken out of context, and it may be so broad in scope as to be useless to the particulars of his situation. That’s what you hire a professional for.

Once in a while, a client will engage in debate over an aspect of estate planning law with me. They may have read something on the Internet, believing it to be relevant to his or her situation. Most of the time the information is relevant but lacks context. Without context, the information or advice in the column may be way off base. That includes the columns that I write here.

What’s frustrating at times is trying to calm someone down from misinformation, or misapplied information. It’s difficult to convey all the knowledge that I’ve accumulated, including accounting degrees, a CPA license, a law degree, board certification and nearly 30 years of experience in a few client meetings lasting a couple of hours or more.

And I suppose that’s today’s thought.

There’s a lot of information out there on the Internet. More so than at any other time in human history, you can Google just about any topic and find a plethora of information. Be aware of this, however – that information is usually not specific to your individual situation and could be entirely false. It is mere information; it is not knowledge. Knowledge is accumulated over years of study and practice in any given field. Some practitioners are certainly better than others, and I recognize that it’s sometimes hard for the layman to know what level of expertise his professional has.

Is my physician the cream of the crop? Does he keep up with all of the new developments? Is my CPA up to date with all of the ever changing tax laws? Is my attorney aware of the recent legal developments and does he have the skill to apply his knowledge to a variety of complex situations?

Often, states have board certification programs that separate those who are exemplary in their field from those that are not. In Florida, for example, to become board certified by the Bar you must first be found to have high ethics and an outstanding reputation among your peers. Then you must pass a thorough examination in your specific field (such as wills, trusts & estates), and complete a serious amount of continuing education in high level course work every reporting period. Once certified, you must become recertified every five years. And only 7% of Florida attorneys even qualify!

Knowledge isn’t the only criteria one should judge their professional on. A true professional has the wisdom to know when, how and why to apply the knowledge. Wisdom is something that’s gained over the years, certainly. I have also found, however, that those individuals I consider wise haven’t achieved that level without first having an inherent quality that seems to be factory installed. They’ve always had the capacity for wisdom, and only needed life experience to shape it into something valuable for those they interact with.

And you don’t find that in areas outside of your area of education and experience by watching television advertisements or searching on Google for a few hours. Go ahead and do your research on your topic, as well as on the professional that you hire. Assuming you are comfortable with that professional, ask questions, and listen to the answers. If the answers appear reasonable, relax and trust his judgment. If not, find a professional that you can trust.

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