Should I visit the Doctor or just Google it?
13th August 2012
Due to the introduction of the internet in the 90s, an ever increasing amount of information has been made available to us at the click of a mouse. In fact, how many of us have had a question, a problem or haven’t known how to do something, and then uttered that common phrase "I’ll Google it." Chances are that you’ll have found what you were looking for, no matter how obscure the question was. One area where there is a wealth of information on the internet is medical conditions and what drugs are available to treat them. Now it seems that many of us are turning to the internet as a means of self diagnosis by tapping in our symptoms into Google, and then based on the results, deciding we have this condition or that condition. Many people are using this approach as it can save a trip to the doctors, and because it seems that people genuinely trust the information on medical matters found on Google (or Dr Google as it has become known). In fact, in a study conducted by Dr Rachel Moon at the Children’s National Medical Centre in Washington, it was found that 72 percent of adults say they trust most or all of the health information they find on the internet. However should we be wary about trusting medical advice and diagnosis that we find on the internet? Well according to a survey for the Food Standards Agency, a quarter of British women have misdiagnosed themselves on the internet and they have then gone on to buy the wrong medication for their condition. The survey also found that searching for symptoms online and self medicating, led to one in ten women enduring unpleasant side effects as a result of misdiagnosis. Half of the women surveyed diagnosed themselves online, and then bought medication without even checking with a Pharmacist if it was the right medication for them. One common problem seems to be people over-diagnosing themselves, something that a fifth of the women in the survey did. After searching their symptoms on the internet many women convinced themselves that they had a life threatening disease or cancer, when in fact what they had was relatively routine and harmless. By doing this they had put themselves through unnecessary turmoil and worry. However, of much more importance is those who under-diagnose themselves. Some people have convinced themselves that they have something rather routine, when in fact they do have a serious condition that requires immediate treatment. It seems to be not just the patient’s interpretation of the information that is the problem, but the actual information itself. Dr Rachel Moon and her team used the internet to test the accuracy of information on infant sleep safety. They performed the search using 13 key phrases relating to infant sleep safety, and then analyzed the top 100 search results which included a total of 1,300 websites. According to the analysis just 43.5 percent of the websites provided accurate information, whilst just over 28 percent of the search results provided inaccurate information and about the same number provided irrelevant information. Many people turn to the internet for medical advice or diagnosis because of the embarrassing nature of their condition, which is understandable but is not worth putting your health at risk for. For that reason it is now possible to have an online consultation with a GP where for some, but not all conditions the Doctor can diagnose and prescribe the correct treatment. Whilst much of the information on the internet regarding medications and conditions can be useful and correct, the public are advised to consult their GP over any symptoms they may be suffering.