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Trusting “Dr Google”?

PostedNovember 2, 2015

Have you indulged in a bit of “disease tourism” lately? Why do people self-diagnose? If your schedule is jam packed with work, taking the kids to rugby practise, and book club …“Dr Internet” is basically free and essentially immediate; and you can’t beat free and immediate – right?

We’ve all been there. Ever sat at your laptop, convinced that your headaches and tiredness after work was more than just stress related … maybe a brain tumour? The first thing we’re inclined to do is to fire up the computer, nervously “googling” symptoms, looking for possible problems these symptoms can lead to, and how to treat them. Well, congratulations, on top of everything else that is the matter with you, turns out you are a cybercondriac as well! Cybercondria is anxiety caused by online health related searches. Yes, it’s a thing!

Research claims that the average person sees an M.D just three times a year but spends almost 52 hours prowling the Web for health help. New statistics suggests that 1 in 5 people self-diagnose rather than seeing a doctor.

Self- diagnosis can easily spiral into over-diagnosis, or worse, an improper diagnosis with dangerous repercussions. Here’s why trusting “Dr Google” with your health is risky:

• A range of health problems can be caused by the same symptoms. A simple case of indigestion could lead to an online diagnosis of colon cancer. Also, the opposite could be true – checking out bleeding from the bottom on the internet might tell you that you have nothing more to worry about than piles … when a rectal tumour is disastrous to miss.
• Online medical sites aren’t regulated, which means there’s no guarantee that the information provided is accurate.
• Self-diagnosis can lead to stress, spawning more symptoms. What if your Google search diagnoses your 2 day headache as the beginning stages of a brain tumour? This may result in sleepless nights and maybe an increase in caffeine intake; causing more headaches.
• A wrong diagnosis could have serious consequences. Treating the symptoms of a heart attack with an antacid because you misdiagnosed your chest pains as indigestion, could be catastrophic.
Information on the Web is plentiful and readily available. To complicate matters further, a lot of the medical information available online is free, accurate and reliable. The problem is, though, that even when the information is reliable, our ability to know what to do with it isn’t. Based on Web searches and the large volumes of medical information, users may be misled with health concerns.

Medical problems are often complicated, and someone without a medical background may jump to false conclusions. This can lead users to believe that common symptoms are likely the result of serious illnesses.

Should we be relying on the Internet and our own judgement for sound medical care? If it is a non-emergency, general wellness inquiry, the answer is “yes”. It is always a good idea to read more about your health or that of a loved one. For example; if a child has a pre-existing condition like asthma, a parent may access the Web to determine ways to make their home more comfortable. But making a diagnosis based on information researched from the Internet is not advised.

Here’s a thought … only research a diagnosis after actually receiving one from your doctor. So, what to do? Only go to reputable websites. Resist the urge to randomly search a topic. A good rule of thumb is to search for sites that you know are backed by experts. And if you’re not sure, ask your doctor or healthcare provider for recommendations.

That being said. Never try to diagnose yourself with a condition online. Always see a healthcare professional first, and then use the Internet to supplement what you’ve been told by your doctor.

The Internet is a tool. You can use the tool appropriately or you can misuse it. Responsible and controlled research may lead to better healthcare, by only providing patients with background information.


DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.