You know the scenario: you have an odd rash, twinge of a stomach ache, or an intermittent cough. You contemplate a doctor’s appointment – for about a minute – and then immediately hit the keyboard. Before you know it, you’re sucked into the vortex of search results. “I knew it! I have cancer!”.
Tip: Instead of consulting Google, why not just ask our doctors? We’re just one click away.
Reasons to log off
Besides the paranoia and fear we create for ourselves, there are legitimate reasons to leave the Internet alone and go straight to those in the know. And no, it’s not (just) because they want the money.
- Medical professionals are trained to diagnose you. They’re aware that you might be missing vital information about what you may possibly have. Your Internet browser, on the other hand, can’t pick up on the things only a human doctor can suss out. A doctor might find something else besides just your obvious symptoms. You’re simply not going to get the full story from an inanimate object.
- You could make things worse. If you simply follow the online treatment advice, based on your self-diagnosis, you might make your condition worse, by not tackling the root of your symptoms.
- The internet doesn’t know you. While you might have a digital footprint all over the Internet because of your social media presence, Google knows nothing about you and your family’s medical history. This is a key part of the doctor’s consultation, to get to the most accurate diagnosis.
The odds are not in your favour
A study published in the British Medical Journal looked at 23 websites around the world that gives information on diagnosis. The study found that these websites only came up 34% of the time.
Another study published in the American Journal of Medicine has found that diagnosis by medical professionals have a much lower chance of being wrong than diagnostics through apps, phone calls or websites. And a study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research said that patients, especially older adults who typically have complex health care needs, risk misinterpreting symptoms via online self-diagnosis.
Not everything online is ineffective, though. Use the Internet for research, not for diagnosis. Educate yourself more about your condition. Reading forums with comments and feedback from others who suffer from something similar might be helpful. But only consult the Internet for research after you’ve had a proper diagnosis from your doctor.
Stop the panic
- If you’re worried about a condition and you need an answer straight away, go to the doctor.
- Stick to well-known medical sources, where the information is reviewed by medical professionals.
- Keep calm and be realistic about what you’re experiencing. Chances are, your sore throat might really only be a common cold and not cancer.
- Even if you fear the worst, you can’t do anything about it without the opinion of a medical professional.
- Online forums can be great support structures if you don’t have access to physical support groups or resources. They’re especially beneficial for stigmatised illnesses like depression.
So don’t Google you symptoms, just Hello Doctor it! Simply sign up on our website. download the free Hello Doctor app from the Google Play or iTunes store. Then you can ask our doctors a question via text or call, anytime, anywhere!
- Semigran, HL, Linder, JA, Gidengil, C and Mehrotra, A. Evaluation of symptom checkers for self diagnosis and triage: audit study, British Medical Journal, July 2015. (http://www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h3480)
- Berner, ES and Graber, ML. Overconfidence as a cause of diagnostic error in medicine, The America Journal of Medicine, May 2008. (http://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(08)00040-5/abstract)
- Luger, TM, Houston, TK, Suls, J. Older adult experience of online diagnosis: results from a scenario-based think-aloud protocol. Journal of Medical Internet Research, January 2014. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24434479)
- Pendry, L, Salvatore. Individual and social benefits of online discussion forms, Computers in Human Behavior, September 2015. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S074756321500268X)