Do you tend to head to Google when you have medical symptoms you can’t explain? If so, you’re not alone. One study found that almost 8 in 10 Australians use the internet to find health information, with almost 4 in 10 self-diagnosing their own medical conditions online.
However, while this is a common practice, it’s also a dangerous one. While some websites are safe and potentially empowering tools, many more sites actually threaten your wellbeing.
Here are three reasons why you should always see a real doctor for medical help rather than turning to Dr Google.
One of the main reasons to choose a real doctor over an internet search is that you’re very likely to miss key symptoms when you attempt self-diagnosis. Given that doctors train for several years to make clinical diagnoses, it should come as no surprise that working out all your symptoms on your own is difficult—if not impossible.
For one, many symptoms require specialist medical tools to uncover. High blood pressure, for example, can be a sign of an underlying health condition like heart disease. However, it’s usually asymptomatic, requiring a blood pressure test using a specialist device.
On top of that, many key symptoms may be brushed off as everyday problems. For example, you may assume an increased need to urinate is a harmless sign of old age, when it could, in fact, be the sign of a health problem. Doctors know the right questions to ask to work out all your symptoms and make an accurate diagnosis.
Another major issue with using the internet for self-diagnosis is one the World Wide Web’s biggest pros and biggest cons: anyone can put any information they like up online, whether it’s true or not. That makes it incredibly difficult to find information that’s accurate and safe. Website owners proclaiming themselves as health experts often match up symptoms and health conditions incorrectly, leading to false diagnosis.
On top of that, even the most reputable websites will give you the wrong information if you’ve diagnosed yourself with the wrong condition.
Say, for example, that you’re a pregnant woman who has experienced headaches and dizziness. An online symptom checker or health site may rightly tell you that these are symptoms of sinusitis or flu, two conditions you can treat yourself at home. However, these are also symptoms of a condition called pre-eclampsia, which can cause severe complications for you and your baby if left untreated.
Whether the information you find is accurate or not, the time you spend believing in a false condition or treating yourself for a condition you don’t have could give your actual condition time develop into something more serious.
Misdiagnosis and inaccurate information aren’t the only ways Dr Google can cause your wellbeing to decline. Using the internet for self-diagnosis can also lead to an anxiety disorder termed cyberchondria.
The name of condition is a portmanteau of cyber (for internet) and hyperchondria, a condition in which the patient is excessively anxious about their health and worries about having a serious illness. This condition tends to come about because the internet turns up severe conditions when given relatively harmless symptoms—telling people they may have a brain tumour because of a headache, for example.
In turn, this leads cyberchondriacs to spend time every day checking for health information and falling further into a downward spiral of medical worries. If you Google your symptoms instead of getting medical attention, you could find yourself dealing with anxiety on top of your initial health condition.
Many people turn to Google for diagnosis when they fall ill outside doctor’s office hours. If you need help when your primary care doctor isn’t available, don’t feel like you need to seek questionable information on the internet.
Instead, call an after-hours doctor from Hello Home Doctor Service. Our practitioners are available to diagnose and treat you professionally from 6pm to 8am on weekdays, 12pm Saturday to 8am Monday, and all day on public holidays.