Everyone’s guilty. At some point in our lives, we all have googled a symptom in hopes of finding the diagnosis on our own. If not for ourselves, for someone we care about. Most of the time we go to Dr. Google first before we decide whether or not we need to see a physician for an actual consult.
In fact, it is estimated that about 80-90% of internet users search for health-related information online. With the advent of google and the ease of accessibility in the use of the internet, people have become more dependent on the internet for health information and it has become a common practice for people to search for answers through the internet when they have medical concerns or questions.
But not all are aware of the potential dangers with this practice. It is important to keep in mind the limitations and possible risks of self-diagnosis. Yes, the internet is great source of information and it has its advantages but substituting a health professional’s diagnosis isn’t one of them.
In this article, we will briefly discuss the reasons why googling your symptoms, is not always a good idea.
Online information is not always accurate or from reputable sources for the simple reason that anyone can publish content online. Once you google your symptoms, google will then try its best to match the results with the search terms used. However, one big problem with that process is that search engines like google, do not take in to consideration credibility.
You may be led to a number of websites or links such as a reputable medical website, to a Wikipedia article, an open forum or a random person’s blog. Thing is, more often than not, theses sources aren’t all published or written by a credible medical professional with the legitimate credentials or experience to write on such topic, hence the information fed to you may be completely inaccurate.
Searching for symptoms may lead to self-diagnosis, which can be dangerous and can lead to anxiety. It’s almost a guarantee that when you google just about any symptom there’s bound to be results that suggest a diagnosis of cancer or something that needs an invasive procedure like surgery. For people who have anxiety issues to begin with or who are known hypochondriacs (people who worry excessively about their health), these dangerous assumptions may only lead to a full-blown anxiety attack. Actually, there is a name for this specific type of anxiety—cyberchondria, and millions suffer from it.
Cyberchondria refers to a clinical phenomenon in which repeated internet searches regarding medical information result in excessive concerns about physical health. They turn to the internet instead of consulting a health professional about their health issues. In time, these concerns turn into obsessions as they spend a ludicrous amount of time checking the internet for information which then interferes with their daily lives.
The internet articles cover everything from the most benign conditions to the worst cases scenarios of diseases. And people with no medical training will find it almost impossible to filter any information they read so it becomes easy to exaggerate their symptoms and convince themselves their situation is much worse than it actually is.
Overlooking serious conditions
While some are led to be believe an exaggerated or extreme diagnosis, even more dangerous is the possibility that real and serious medical conditions can be overlooked, especially conditions that require immediate medical attention. There is also a risk of becoming so certain that one’s self-diagnosis is correct that it is difficult to accept a different diagnosis from a health-care professional, leading to misdiagnosis, which can end up costing them their lives.
Delaying proper treatment
By focusing on self-diagnosis, people may delay seeking proper medical treatment. Self-diagnosis can lead to people focusing on the wrong treatment or not seeking treatment at all, leading to a delay in proper care.
Increased medical costs
Another consequence for googling your symptoms is increased costs for treatments or medicines that may not be necessary. Especially true for hypochondriacs and cyberchondriacs googling symptoms can turn these people fearful and distressed about their medical condition—even if their fears are irrational. This often leads to frequent and sometimes unnecessary trips to the ER as well as recurrent visits to their physician’s clinic. This vicious cycle eventually ends up costing patients and the healthcare industry billions each year in unnecessary medical tests and treatments.
Googling for a diagnosis is unfortunately a common practice nowadays, but using search engines as a diagnostic aid can be a horrible idea. As we can see, googling your symptoms has a lot of disadvantages and may even come at a hefty price, your life. This is not to say that patients should not be educated with regards to their health, but it’s equally important to do so by getting your information from reputable sources, whether that may be from a very credible medical website or better yet directly from your attending physician or any handouts or pamphlets they provide.
Bottomline. If you have health concerns, talk to your doctor—don’t rely on the internet alone. At the end of the day, we all seek one thing, peace of mind, and the best peace of mind you can receive is through a physician who is medically trained, armed with years of experience and who relies only on evidence-based medicine.
About The Author
Dr. Hannah is a highly-skilled and compassionate physician who completed her medical degree at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila in 2014. She passed the Physician Licensure Exam in 2015, and has since gained experience working in various hospitals and clinics throughout Metro Manila. For three years, she served as a physician on duty at a dialysis institute, caring for patients with chronic lifestyle diseases.
As a primary care physician, Dr. Hannah is dedicated to providing patient-centered care that takes into account the whole person, not just their illness. She believes in empowering her patients to take an active role in their healthcare, and believes that this type of doctor-patient relationship is key to achieving optimal health.