Are there risks to looking up health information online?
The sheer volume of information on the internet can be very beneficial. When you don’t know something, it’s incredibly easy to go type it into a search engine and the next thing you know, you’ve got thousands of results. This is definitely true regarding any questions you might have about your health. The question is whether or not the information is reliable. How do you determine this?
Almost half of Americans state that the internet is the main source of their health information and a third attempt to self-diagnose ailments based off of symptoms that they have and look up online. It is estimated that about 1% of all Google searches, which would be in the millions each day, are related to medical symptoms. Some people are able to find it helpful and end up better informed, while others end up panicking and obsessing over worst-case scenarios. This fear and preoccupation brought on by web-based self-diagnosis is called cyberchondira. When you see a list of symptoms and, then impose them on yourself, you are looking for trouble because symptoms can be vague and overlapping. It is key to remember that most symptoms are not exclusive to one disease. The bottom line is don’t let yourself be driven to find a condition.
With the web offering unlimited amounts of health information, the internet is redefining the roles of doctors and patients. It can be a complimentary tool for facilitating discussions with your doctor. The best way to do this is using it to help you prepare a list of questions to ask during your visit. It is key to share with your doctor any information that you’ve found while doing your research. Doctors use this data to help them make a diagnosis. They go to school for years to learn how to interpret symptoms and develop a well-honed clinical sense. The treatment plan they come up with is based off of your reported symptoms, any objective clinical findings (results of X-rays, blood work and their clinical examination), available medical research/guidelines and knowledge about your past medical history and current lifestyle. So, while medical artificial intelligence is rapidly developing and improving, it can’t replicate the skill of your doctor. While the internet is a good place to find general information about various symptoms and diseases, it’s always better to see your doctor for a personalized diagnosis and treatment course designed specifically for you.
Doctors are finding that they have to spend a lot of time responding to concerns raised by internet searches. While many state it’s helpful when the patient brings to light symptoms or problems that might otherwise have been overlooked, it can be difficult when patients are convinced they have a disease that doesn’t actually afflict them. About a third of doctors say their patients come in more misinformed than they have in the past due to a significant amount of the information that is available is inaccurate, outdated and biased information. Also, it’s essential to remember that not everyone who provides medical advice on the web is qualified to do so. So, once you have been diagnosed by a doctor, the internet can confirm or expand on the information provided by your doctor. Besides doing research, forums can be extremely helpful in connecting you with other individuals and resources. Remember, do not start, stop or make changes to your medications or supplements without talking to your doctor first. Also, keep in mind that online research can lead you to websites that sometimes recommend drastic diets that eliminating foods or groups of foods without a good reason. Keep in mind that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. So, how do you find credible information on the internet?
Once you’ve researched any concerns that you have on the internet, it is a good idea to take some steps that will ensure your visit with your doctor will go smooth. It can be helpful to schedule a longer appointment and notify your doctor in advance that you have a lot of questions. Many modern practices have online portals that allow you to communicate with your doctor. This can be useful in messaging your doctor with additional questions. Find out from your doctor if there are support groups, classes or other resources that can provide accurate, up-to-date information about your condition. Remember, you always have the right to ask for a patient advocate to be present in the meetings with your doctor. If nothing seems to work, consider changing doctors because sometimes, it just isn’t a good fit.
Overall, health information found online is a positive thing because it can enhance discussions with your doctor. Also, it allows you the ability to research sensitive or embarrassing conditions in the privacy of your home. Websites that are geared toward patients, including blogs and support groups, can reduce feelings of isolation. Reliable online medical sources provide general, easily understandable information about symptoms, treatment options and common outcomes. However, it is vital to remember that information can be difficult to regulate, so it can be inaccurate, misleading or outdated. Also, some people may misinterpret health information or accept scientifically unsound information that offers little or no benefit. Despite any concerns, most doctors feel that if your questions are related to a non-emergency, such as a general wellness inquiry, they encourage you to look up them on the internet. The caveat is that you should always consider online health information as just the first step in your treatment plan, but leave the diagnosing and actual treatment plan development to your doctor. Remember, it’s easy to assume the worst when you check your symptoms online, but don’t panic, take a deep breath, think a bit before acting and always seek the appropriate medical care.