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The modern patient & internet self diagnosis

Medical professionals warn of the perils of internet self diagnosis. With MyHealthPortal you get all the benefits of the internet including immediate access to medical information, without the attendant risks. The best of both worlds.   2013-11-11
 

Most people in the UK have instant access to the internet and unlike our GP practices where we might be faced with anything up to a 3 week waiting list to see our family doctor; the internet is there for us instantly twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Therefore, who do many of us turn to when we are feeling unwell, the internet of course, and the rates of so called internet self diagnosis, or cyberchondria is increasing, with many people logging on to search engines to self-diagnose. According to BUPA, UK based health websites, will probably receive 40 million hits in one week alone, whilst in the USA the Pew Internet and American Life Project believes that eight in 10 Internet users search online for health information.

MyHealthPortal GP clinic online

This growing trend of trawling through internet sites to find either a diagnosis or remedies for symptoms such as headaches, ear aches, abdominal pains and more is raising concerns that we are either fastening on to the worst diagnosis i.e. cancer, or completely ignoring potential health problems by turning to the internet and self-diagnosing rather than visiting our GP. A study carried out by the government-funded Information Standard noted that of those people surveyed who delayed going to see their GP, more than half had self diagnosed on the web and almost one in six were told by their doctors that they had a ‘lucky escape’ when eventually they were correctly diagnosed. These rates explain the massive popularity of the MyHealthPortal virtual clinic which gives its subscribers all the benefits of the internet but without the attendant risks. Behind the MyHealthPortal website is a British medical team that will follow up any enquiry to make sure that the medical advice given is accurate.

Men versus Women

Gender is a major component in relation to our attitudes when it comes to visiting our GP’s, as 43% of women delayed a visit to the GP compared to 37% of men. The survey found that women were more prone to exploring search engines to both self-treat and self-diagnose, whereas men delayed going to see their GP’s as they considered that any symptoms would resolve without any medical advice or intervention. This predominately male delusion of ignoring potential worrying symptoms and assuming that they will soon disappear may of course have grave health consequences that could have been prevented had the patient sought medical advice earlier. Conversely and this particularly applies to women who seek a diagnosis via ‘Dr Search Engine’ self diagnosed patients often start believing that they have an incurable and fatal disease as the computer will list and highlight all the possible diseases from the symptoms typed in to the tool bar, and the user will fasten on to the worst possible scenario, and subsequently make a ‘panic’ telephone call to the surgery and asking for an urgent consultation with their own GP. They then turn up for the appointment armed with a cascade of data they have gleaned from the internet in the quest for answers.

Potential harmful concerns

  1. Self diagnosis might be incorrect.
  2. Any delay to see your own GP due to self medication potentially may mean that you lose out on an accurate and prompt diagnosis.
  3. If the illness is critical, any delay in seeking appropriate medical management could have fatal repercussions.
  4. Self chosen therapies could be incompatible with other treatments, medications, alcohol and other drugs prescribed by your own doctor, and consequently have detrimental and serous adverse health implications.

Implications of psychological self-diagnosis

Self diagnosing psychological symptoms has an equally latent and disastrous consequence, as the web does not, and can never have the fine distinction that only a medical diagnosis provides, between a genuine psychiatric disorder or psychological symptoms which may manifest as a serious medical disease such as a brain tumour as this may have started with personality changes or depression.

GP’s versus “Dr.Google & Associates”

Thus far in this article the content has illustrated quite clearly the potential perils of self diagnosis using the internet. However, although we are all aware of the academic, stringent and long training it takes to become a GP, the time constraints imposed on patients when visiting their doctor often means that we don't have the time to discuss all our medical concerns and consequently we often leave the surgery feeling somewhat dispirited, and with concerns unanswered.

Benefits

Therefore, are there any benefits at all of searching for medical/health answers on the internet? Well the answer to this is a definite yes. Firstly the internet does not have any time limitations, and secondly it has a multiplicity of positive and helpful medical information for all of us to access. In this modern day and age we all have a sense of health interest and most of us wish to take some responsibility and accountability for our own health, which ultimately translates that us as healthcare consumers have a sense of empowerment and informed involvement regarding our medical care. This is precisely the core benefit of the MyHealthPortal virtual health clinic. MyHealthPortal does not impose any limitations on the amount of time a subscriber can 'spend' with the doctor and the role of our medical team is precisely to provide subscribers with what they most want, to be empowered with health information and to have a key role in their health care.

Helpful applications of the internet.

  1. Food safety or recalls
  2. Drug safety
  3. Pregnancy and childbirth
  4. Symptom related search involving information about a specific disease or medical problem
  5. Medical treatment and procedures
  6. General wellness enquiry
  7. Support groups for people suffering with chronic conditions, such as Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease.
  8. Discover alternative medical treatments
  9. Search for assistance and support from other internet users who may have the same type of illnesses or diseases e.g. online discussion forums or social media such as facebook.

Caution

At this juncture we need to stress that you need to exercise vigilance regarding the sites chosen to explore. Government websites provide the most dependable information and according to a study conducted by Nottingham University, 55% of these sites provided the correct advice, whereas many unreliable and/or bogus sites endorsed their own products as a treatment choice. Consequently always act with prudence and consult your own GP prior to:

A. Paying out any money and

B. More importantly consuming or topically applying any product without your doctor’s approval as they may contain harmful components, and also potentially may be completely inappropriate for your medical problem.

Conclusion

Although the internet will ensure that you have enhanced information regarding any medical condition, which can consequently assist you when settling on questions you pose to your GP, unless you are searching for medical information in MyHealthPortal which is backed by a UK medical team which tailor makes the medical advice to suit the individual circumstances of the individual, the internet IS NOT and thus far will NEVER be a substitute for consulting your own doctor.

As technology advances we will continue to search the internet for health related queries, however, the maxim must be, use it wisely and NOT as a replacement for consulting with our own GP – after all it will always be impossible to have a relationship with an item of machinery albeit how advanced, unlike a human being who not only provide us with the most up to date and appropriate treatments, but also offer us empathy and reassurance!