Should we trust the search engine for a medical diagnosis? Here’s what the doctors say

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Most people all over the world tend to do a quick Google search whenever they have certain symptoms that are synonymous with common illnesses, seasonal or not. This leads to a deluge of troubling results, further accentuating them. This can be counterproductive and even dangerous to their health. This is why doctors advise against self-diagnosis.

General practitioners at Fortis Hospital in Mulund, Dr Sanjay Shah and Dr Pradip Shah, share with indianexpress.com that the digital revolution has changed many aspects of our lives, especially in the way we source health-related information, as it is easily and freely available. “Previously, 1 in 10 patients sought health information on the internet, but today that number has risen to 9 in 10,” they say.

This is especially true now, in the pandemic, when people have been looking for ways to make hand sanitizers at home, and even looking for symptoms to find out if they have contracted the virus. Ironic and dangerous!

The risk of misdiagnosis, overdiagnosis or underdiagnosis

“More often than not, self-diagnosis points to something more frightening. This can lead to misdiagnosis or overdiagnosis. For example, if you search for “headaches”, you’ll probably find about 20 results showing a different interpretation of headaches, each more frightening than the other. Chances are your headache is something small, but internet research shows signs of a cancerous tumor or other neurological problem.

“Plus, you’re going to panic and that can cause a high level of stress. Self-medication involves pharmacological risks that can lead to serious adverse effects. Sometimes you even underdiagnose yourself, which could have a serious long-term impact on quality of life or worse, death,” doctors warn.

Know the “cyberchondria”

Cyberchondria refers to a person’s anxiety about their health that is created by excessive use of the Internet to seek medical information. Doctors say it has become a problem lately, “as people resort to researching what the internet has to say about their health and wellbeing.” “People with cyberchondria tend to misinterpret normal bodily changes and minor physical symptoms as signs of illness or serious illness. For many people with health anxiety, the fear can become so severe that it can interfere with work and relationships.

Seek help from a medical professional

“We come across patients with a whole list of questions they have about their symptoms and their condition. Some patients come with a diagnosis that they have already come to using the Internet. And some are accompanied by lab reports and medical investigations, also the result of online searches.

“Of course, we would call them autonomous patients, but quite often these people display a lack of confidence in the health advice offered by doctors. We must understand that no technology or internet research can completely replace professional medical help,” they say.

Things to keep in mind

* Anyone can post content online
* Consider online research as your starting point, not your final answer
* Seek information from reputable websites such as health clinics, hospital websites, reputable health magazines and publications
* Do not delay actual care from medical professionals
* Do your research online, then write down your questions, call your doctor or a local health center and talk to someone who knows how to tie all the pieces together

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