Should You Google Your Medical Symptoms?
Posted byChristine Yu
Out of the blue, you feel an aching pain in your stomach, and you’re doubled over and nauseous. Naturally, you head straight to your phone or computer and search for your medical symptoms. Is it appendicitis or food poisoning? Do you need to see a doctor? OMG it’s a tumor! Calm down, breathe.
Let’s face it: You’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole searching the internet for the reason behind your medical symptoms. With the endless amount of information available at your fingertips, it’s human nature to turn to Dr. Google when you don’t feel well. Why bother making a doctor’s appointment when you can get an answer in a few seconds? Here’s why taking matters into your own hands is a terrible idea.
According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of U.S. adults go online to look for health information. Thirty-five percent are considered “online diagnosers” — people who go online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they (or someone else) may have. However, 35 percent of them never visited a doctor to confirm their self-diagnosis.1
Here’s the thing: The pages and pages of health info is a double-edged sword. While convenient, the information available may not be entirely true or up-to-date.
For example, a study published by The BMJ found that online tools aren’t always accurate.2 Researchers examined 23 online symptom checkers to determine the tools’ accuracy in diagnosing and triaging a range of conditions. They found that the tools presented the correct diagnosis as the first result only 34 percent of the time and in the top three results half of the time. For triaging symptoms, the online checkers offered accurate suggestions as the top result 57 percent of the time.2
In other words, the results you may find online may lead to incorrect conclusions and could lead to a bad case of cyberchondria.
Yet, not all online health sites are bad. It’s how you use the information you’ve uncovered that matters. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Don’t jump to conclusions! While it’s tempting to self-diagnose, hold off. The Pew Research Center report also found that 18 percent of respondents followed up with their physician and learned that their self-diagnosis was incorrect.1
- Consider your source. Who is providing the information? Is it from a credible M.D., hospital or medical institution? Is the information up to date? The U.S. National Library of Medicine offers a resource to help you evaluate the health information you find online and weed out the good from the bad.3
- Use your research as a starting point. When you search for medical symptoms online, leverage your research to think up questions to ask your doctor. This way, you can engage your physician in a conversation about your health concern and what it may mean for you.
- See your doctor. It’s important to maintain regular visits to your primary care physician and gynecologist. These routine visits allow your doctor to understand your medical history and monitor any changes in your health. If you’re not due for a routine appointment and think that something may be wrong, always consult your doctor right away. If you don’t have a regular doctor, there are other options available, such as walk-in clinics and urgent care centers.
You’re Not a Pro. Your Doc Is
While the wealth of health information available online may help you put a name to a medical condition, it doesn’t replace the experience and training of a medical professional. After all, everyone has a unique family and medical history that don’t always conform to a standard patient profile. Your doctor will analyze your medical symptoms and prescribe a treatment plan that is the best for YOU.
1Fox, Susannah, Duggan, Maeve. Health Online 2013. Pew Research Center. Accessed March 3, 2017. http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/01/15/health-online-2013/.
2Semigran HL, et al. Evaluation of symptom checkers for self diagnosis and triage: audit study. British Medical Journal. 2015 Jul 8;351:h3480. Accessed March 3, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26157077.
3U.S. National Library of Medicine. Evaluation Health Information. Accessed March 3, 2017. https://medlineplus.gov/evaluatinghealthinformation.html.
- Posted by Christine Yu
- On May 24, 2017