What are the Dangers of Self-diagnosis via the Internet?
With the rise of the health care cost globally, an increased number of patients now look for cheaper alternatives online to help cope with their hefty medical bills. Not surprisingly, they often go for Dr. Google to self-diagnose everything from a simple headache to cancer. And, shockingly, some even buy "cure for all" type health products from manufacturers they've never known.
I'll not be surprised if you say that you have also used Dr. Google to self-diagnose your condition. But, believe me or not, self-diagnosis via internet is as dangerous as misleading. Accordingly, in this hub, I would like to discuss why online self-diagnosis is risky and why you shouldn't try it.
Do you use search engines to find medical information?
Here are some potential issues that you need to consider before self-diagnosing your condition. These include:
- The diagnosis may be wrong.
- The diagnosis may cause worthless anxiety.
- The diagnosis may convince you that nothing is wrong, so you don't need to visit a doctor. This can prolong your much needed visit to the physician.
Without proper clinical diagnosis and medical attention, your condition may get worse. In case of serious illness, a delay in proper medical treatment may lead to serious complications.
Risk Factors at a Glance
- Unnecessary worry
- Improper treatment
- Drug abuse
- Waste of money
- According to a report by dailymail.co.uk, many women in United Kingdom had wrongly diagnosed themselves as having thrush, high blood pressure, or asthma, while the alarm was for breast cancer.
- A study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, concluded that self-diagnosis using the internet could be unwise because users likely to focus on symptoms -- based on their self-negativity bias -- rather than the risk of having the illness.
Self-diagnosis via the internet is not only misleading but also confusing. More than hundreds of serious health conditions share a number of similar symptoms. For example, nausea and vomiting are the most common symptoms of many conditions, including motion sickness, emotional stress, drug overdose, food poisoning, stomach flu, ulcers, gallbladder disease, some forms of cancer, and many more.
Assume that you are experiencing a vomiting tendency (or have already vomited) and feeling unwell; if you search for conditions associated with vomiting in Google, it will lead you to pages related to digestive diseases and cyclic vomiting syndrome. No doubt, it will be confusing for you to decide whether you're having a specific condition mentioned above or something else.
Only a through clinical investigation by a trained physician can let you know about your condition. In addition, researchers often say that symptoms of any medical condition can vary from person to person. For a specific condition, what you find in a medical website are the most common symptoms. But chances are high that you might experience completely dissimilar symptoms. So, the findings of an online self-diagnosis can lead you to two possible results: unwarranted anxiety and/or no serious issue.
As self-diagnosis often leads to misdiagnosis, no doubt it also brings some unnecessary worries. For example, if you put abdominal pain in as a symptom, you could come up with more than 140 possible causes, including colon cancer. So, it's not impossible that your self-diagnosis can make think you're having a serious condition -- while nothing is wrong with you. And this unnecessary worry may persist and grow up, unless you check it out with a doctor.
Misinformation or Cyberquackery
Today, thousands of websites provide medical information online. And It's really difficult to make sure the information you're getting is accurate, because medical misinformation or 'cyberquackery' is rife on the internet.
As search engines nowadays demand unique and plagiarism free contents, many owners or management body of these sites often hire writers who are especially well in article rewriting and spinning. Not surprisingly, most of these sites provide about 80% similar information. The differences you'll find only in writing style, format, and word choice.
No doubt, these writers are really well in writing a copy that can pass any plagiarism checking software. But the problem is most of them aren't with any medical related background. I believe you know it very well that what could happen if a nonprofessional does something in place of a specialized one.
No, these writers don't do any massacre in their writings! But, most often, they misinterpret medical terms when altering it with a substitute term. For example, "gastrointestinal discomfort" is a common symptom of diarrhea, but if you write "stomach upset" instead of it, that would sound a completely different meaning.
Well, I need to apologize here, because it's not that all medical websites do the same. Many trustworthy sites provide up-to-date or accurate information. However, I need to add that these sites use their web presence to make money in addition to advising the public. So, obviously, you will see some promotional products or services -- in line with the information -- there that aren't relevant for the readers.
Internet has opened some new doors for illegal and unethical businesses. As more and more scammers and spammers are occupying internet, consumers are now at higher of being scammed.
A large number of health websites help promote a huge range of health and medical products in order to monetize their sites. Not, surprisingly, while reading a medical article on those sites, you may jump into a cure-for-all type dietary product presented in a so convincing way that you can't resist yourself from buying it.
However, the problem is the product you want to buy or already bought might not be recommended for you at all. It may also contain an ingredient you are allergic to.
Additionally, many of these products come from unknown manufacturers. Can you guarantee that those products contain the same ingredients written on their labels? I bet, no!
Therefore, you should always consider consulting with a doctor or pharmacist before buying a dietary product.
What do you think about self-diagnosis?
Don't you think self-diagnosis is misleading?
Internet provides us a great opportunity to make ourselves more informed about different diseases and conditions. But you have to accept the fact that self-diagnosis using online information can never replace a face-to-face discussion with a physician. If you use it to have a good understanding of your condition, it can help you to make a better decision.
Use internet not to self-diagnose but to understand your condition. It is a good idea to discuss what you have found online with your doctor. Visit your doctor and discuss your findings. If you are not satisfied with his/her suggestions, get a second opinion.
For this, you may try online medical forums and doctor consultation sites. However, there are some advantages and disadvantages of trying online consultation sites, as well.
In conclusion, to get yourself more informed with trustworthy health and medical information, I would suggest you to go for the government, nonprofit, or educational sites where contents are regularly updated by a group of highly professional individuals.
Sites you can Trust for Health and Medical Information
MedlinePlus - Health Information from the U.S. National Library of Medicine
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Official website of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Women's Health works to improve the health of women and girls through policy, education and model programs.
- NHS Choices - Your health, your choices
Information from the National Health Service on conditions, treatments, local services and healthy living.
- Home | Better Health Channel
Health and medical information for consumers.
© 2014 Imtiaz Ibne Alam