“Please do not confuse your Google search with my medical degree.” -unknown
With the rise of the internet and technology, almost everything that we want to have or know, is just a click away. Google, for instance is like a gift to mankind. Everything you want to know; Google has the answer. Google is a technology company that specializes in Internet-related services and products, which include online advertising technologies, search engine, cloud computing, software, and hardware. It is considered one of the Big Four technology companies, alongside Amazon, Apple and Facebook.
With so much confidence in Google, even the symptoms that we feel, we Google search first before heading to the doctor for a check-up. Well-meaning individuals might type in their symptoms into Google with the intention to educate themselves before seeing a medical practitioner or asses which kind of healthcare facility to go and when. In a way, online symptom checkers guide the patients to visit a clinician even if algorithms yielded few positive results and did not provide correct diagnosis. While being informed is a good thing, self-diagnosing through Google search is still not the best idea.
The internet has made seeking information a lot easier than it has ever been in the past, making it faster and simpler for patients to find a diagnosis online. As the number of online medical resources continues to grow, it is likely that patients will encounter more choices for digital symptom searches. When you Google your symptoms, search engines perform their best to pair results that match the words or phrase you inputted. Take note though that search engines do not factor in credibility. You might end up in a trustworthy medical site or a Wikipedia article, health forum, or personal blog site. These sources may be inaccurate and not published by a medical professional with the degree or credentials to give sound medical advice.
People who often rely on Google and search for their symptoms may have swayed themselves that they have this certain medical condition and would start to worry even before paying a visit to a doctor. Some would even self-medicate, still with the help of Google. I have a co-worker who mentioned that she’s having stomach pain for several days. She Googled her symptom and was so worried because the search engine lead to associating stomach pain to cancer. She had sleepless nights and was so afraid to go to the doctor for confirmation. Imagine the terror she had gone through the past days as she continued to search and found several write ups strengthening her suspicion of really having an early stage cancer only to find out she had UTI or Urinary Tract Infection. Googling symptoms causes health anxiety. Imagine a single headache could lead to extreme conclusions that could elevate the anxiety level of an already afraid and confused person. Here’s a term for this, cyberchondria. Back in 2001, a BBC News article referred to cyberchondria as Internet Print Out Syndrome. Dr. Brian Fallon of Columbia University, a known researcher on hypochondria, describes cyberchondriacs as “a group of hypochondriacs who have a strong, obsessive compulsive focus to their symptoms.”
How does Googling symptoms affect you as a patient?
Googling symptoms costs patients more money. When a person becomes cyberchondriac, his uneasiness over a symptom can lead to frequent ER visits and doctor’s appointment. This would even lead to requesting laboratory tests and treatment that are not necessary.
Online searches can have a negative impact especially when it involves our health. Still nothing beats having an appointment with your trusted medical doctor. If you have health concerns, talk to a doctor, don’t rely on the internet. If you find overstated information about your ailment, it could cause unnecessary agony. If you find write ups on the internet that downplays what you are experiencing, you might fail to give the medical attention it requires. Google searches and algorithmic symptom checkers may have good intentions and may be back up with science, but it could also be misleading resulting to misdiagnosis and adverse health consequence. We should not trust and apply everything that we see in Google or the internet, in general. We should have good judgement if the source is legit or fraudulent.
It is hard to identify a conclusive number of patients who use online health information as initial resource or self-diagnosed online. But with the high prevalence of internet/digital literacy, the number of patients seeking medical information through the web is also increasingly alarming.
Checking Symptoms the Intelligent Way
Online checking doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. Instead, it’s time to make it an informative one. It’s time to stop Googling symptoms and start check your symptoms the smart way. Diagnosio is your answer.
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