For many people, it may seem trivial to seek medical care from a physician over a pain in the neck, a headache or an uncomfortable feeling in the knee. This is why millions of individuals peruse the Internet through websites like WebMD.com, YourDiagnosis.com and Medline Plus to diagnose themselves and their health problem.
A study came out earlier this year from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, which showed that more than one-third (35 percent) of Americans have gone on the Internet for a diagnosis. An interesting finding that might surprise some is that 41 percent of respondents said a doctor had concurred with the self-diagnosis - about one-third, though, never followed up with a visit to a doctor to verify the online diagnosis.
"Online health information is available day or night, at no cost, and the internet has become a de facto second opinion for many people," said Susannah Fox, an associate director of the Project and lead author of the report, in a statement. "The open search box invites people to begin their journey toward better health, but this study shows that the internet is just one piece of the puzzle. Clinicians are still central."
It can certainly be agreed that the Internet has done wonders for us: we can find recipes for our dinners tonight, tell the world about an amazing Christmas gift, read several newspaper sources and research the background of diseases and illnesses. However, focusing too much on the Internet for a physical examination can prove dangerous for both your health and your mind.
Medical experts say that it's one thing to search on Google to confirm if your symptoms match the flu or a cold, but it's another to query every single pain you experience. This is why unfounded anxieties over common issues have facilitated the term "cyberchondria," an Internet-enabled form of hypcohondria.
"We are concerned that people may self-diagnose without going to a doctor," said Michael Summers, Patients Association vice chairman, in an interview with the London Telegraph. "We advise against that very strongly, because online information is often not to be relied upon. It's much better to consult your [general practitioner]."
One study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking discovered that anxieties and fears substantially increase as those with cyberchondria constantly search online and find new conditions that appear to be associated with their symptoms.
In September, an official from the National Health Service (NHS) issued a statement that explained they are concerned over the number of people who are delaying their visits to see their doctor because patients are self-diagnosing and using "unreliable health information."
A part of the reason why individuals tend to favor the Internet than making a trip to the doctor's office is because they feel that the two are the same thing. The misconception is that both release results based on reported symptoms. However, medical professionals argue that websites may simply compare the information with a database, while a doctor may use their several years of education and experience to come to a different conclusion.
If patients must search the Internet for health information, it is recommended that they do not search for pleasure, they must utilize trusted websites, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Mayo Clinic, and be sure to double check the diagnosis with a doctor.