Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Danger of Using the Internet for Self-Diagnosis

This is a guest post

As people increasingly turn to the internet for news and information, a significant number of people are using the internet to research health information. According to a study by the Pew Internet Project, 8 in 10 internet users, or approximately 95 million American adults, have searched for health information on the internet. Women, people under 65, and college graduates are the most likely to turn to the internet for medical information. These people not only search for medical information, but they use their search results as a form of self-diagnosis. Going to visit a doctor can be expensive, and it can take weeks to schedule an appointment. This is frustrating for a patient, and more and more often people have found the abundant information available on the internet as a less expensive and less time-consuming option than visiting the doctor. Furthermore, the internet doesn't charge special fees to be seen in the middle of the night or over the weekend.

Danger! Danger!
Don't let the convenience and inexpensiveness of the internet keep you from seeking professional help. Self-diagnosis can cause serious complications:
  1. Knowing how to 'surf' a term on the Internet is not the same as being capable of verifying the legitimacy of a website. If a user cannot tell the difference between a credible or hoax site they could easily receive illegitimate medical advice.
  2. While you may recognize one symptom and find it on the internet, you may be experiencing a whole range of problems and thereby misdiagnose yourself.
  3. Misdiagnosis can lead to more severe medical complications, or late diagnosis of medical issues.
  4. Late diagnosis could cause an issue to transform from a benign medical problem into a severe or even terminal medical issue.
  5. Medical issues often have similar symptoms. If you diagnosis yourself with nausea but are actually pregnant, you may ingest medicines or other remedies that could be harmful to the fetus' health.
  6. Once self-diagnosis has occurred, the next step is to find a cure. There are thousands of hoax remedies available on the internet, and deciphering the difference between a hoax and a real remedy is not something that a layman is trained to do.
  7. If a patient would prefer to self-diagnose their medical issue, they will likely also be willing to purchase the recommended medicines from overseas pharmacies. These overseas pharmacies often use ingredients that are not approved by the FDA and can cause health conditions or even death.
  8. There is no sure way to know whether the ailments and symptoms found on the internet are correct. Internet health websites are not regulated like medical schools, doctors, pharmacists, or hospitals.
  9. Self-diagnosis creates the possibility for over-diagnosis. For example, you may be sure that the pain you feel is caused by a cancerous tumor, when in reality it is little more than a bruise. Over-diagnosis might create stress that is unnecessary, and stress is known for causing myriad symptoms and health complications.
Contact your doctor if you suspect that you have a treatable or serious medical condition.

Medical and Health-Related Websites
Note that these websites should NEVER be used in place of a doctor. These are informational only.
  • WebMD is a comprehensive website that lists many medical conditions. They also discuss medications used (as well as complications), healthy living tips, and other health related resources.
  • MedicineNet is similar to WebMD, if not as well known, and offers information on medical conditions, medicines, and also a medical term dictionary that will help you demystify those big words your doctor uses. 
  • The Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. This website offers myriad information on medical symptoms, medicines, and healthy living. Additionally, the Mayo Clinic has medical college campuses and medical services locations.
  • The US government has created MedlinePlus to educate people about the medicines they consume and relevant health topics.
  • Harvard Health Publications offers newsletters on recent research as well as a searchable index by health topic.

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