If you were told that the doctor only had a 34% chance of getting your diagnosis correct would you still go to them? Thirty-four percent is the percentage of success online diagnosis tools have when you are very accurate with your symptoms. If your symptoms are vague, the chance of a correct diagnosis drops significantly.
More and more people are taking to the internet to do their medical investigations, and it’s proving not to be that healthy. Associate Professor of Health Care Policy and Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Ateev Mehrotra, told the Harvard Gazette “These tools may be useful in patients who are trying to decide whether they should get to a doctor quickly, but in many cases, users should be cautious and not take the information they receive from online symptom checkers as gospel”.
With the comfort of anonymity, it is easier for people to discuss potentially embarrassing symptoms online. There are some forums on the internet where people swap symptoms and discuss the possible diagnosis. Studies have shown that this behaviour is caused by the need to be comforted that whatever the symptom the user is suffering from is only temporary and not life-threatening. The problem becomes evident when people want comfort so much that they will search for topics that support their comfort and potentially ignore a potential problem.
A study conducted by Women’s Health shows that while most only go to the GP three times a year those same people will spend almost 52 hours searching the web for health advice with only 30% following up with an actual doctor after that. Professor Mehrotra stated, “It’s not nearly as important for a patient with fever, headache, stiff neck, and confusion to know whether they have meningitis or encephalitis as it is for them to know that they should get to an ER quickly”.
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While the forums and online tools are not going to go away anytime soon, it’s important that if you have a serious concern about anything that was going to a doctor is still the safest and most comprehensive option. If you still, choose to search the net for medical advice you might want to take this advice into consideration.
Even if you share a symptom with something serious, it doesn’t mean that you have it. While you should never ignore any sudden changes to your health, it won’t help to stress about it.
Make an appointment with a doctor and write down any symptoms that you typed into the computer. Your GP will be able to use the information for diagnosis or to give you the piece of mind that everything is fine.
The web can be a scary place when you are feeling vulnerable so it’s best to skip Wikipedia, which most articles on medical conditions contain errors, and visit your GP. If your GP uses the net to search for your ailment, it might be time to use the net to search for a new doctor.
Do you use the internet for self-diagnosis? Do you think it causes more worry than it is helpful?