Does Dr. Google Really Know Best?

Years ago, when a person became ill, the only option was to look up the doctor’s phone number in the address book and call the office to make an appointment.  Most likely, the phone was attached by a cord to the wall.
Today, we have the answers to all our health concerns right at our fingertips on our smartphones. But is this really a blessing?  
Cyberchondria is the preoccupation with medical concerns caused by health research online. Patients that seek medical advice from a physician are often plagued with this problem. Are we at the point where Dr. Google can replace your physician?  
Here are the pitfalls of diagnosing your own condition using the internet.

  • Many anecdotal reports submitted by patients or family members are not representative of the average person with a given condition. People tend to write about extreme cases of severe disease manifestations or of unusual recoveries with little or no medication.
  • Patients may convince themselves that they have a disease or that their disease is much worse than it actually is.  In these cases, the physician is trying to convince the patient of their actual diagnosis, ordering unnecessary blood work, scans or prescribing unnecessary treatment.  
  • There are often misleading recovery stories claiming that serious diseases can be cured without medication, and this can be quite dangerous. Any patient who stops treatment without consulting his physician is putting himself at risk.
  • The symptom checkers are extremely unreliable, even on WebMD.  These symptom checkers will give you dozens of ailments with the most likely diagnosis listed on the top. A recent study found that these sites only yielded the correct diagnosis in 34% of the cases. Would you see a doctor who made the correct diagnosis 34% of the time?  Only a trained physician can truly comprehend the true meaning of symptoms and patterns.

There are, however, some situations where Dr. Google can be helpful.  For example, my medical receptionist had searched her son’s symptoms when he became very ill while visiting with his grandparents.  She realized the symptoms were severe enough to get him to a hospital, and he was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.
These situations tend to be less common. The best way to utilize the internet is to research your diagnosis after you have seen a doctor in order to better understand your condition.  This way, you are utilizing your time to prepare questions for your next doctor’s visit instead of trying to obtain a medical degree online after an hour or two of research.