The Internet as a Resource and the Mistake of Self-Diagnosis

We have all been guilty of this but the truth is, self-diagnosis is a bad idea. It does not even matter what website you are using. WebMD or National Institutes for Health – don’t do it! First, it is not easy as it seems and it can lead to incorrect conclusions. Feel free to research your symptoms but leave the diagnosing to the doctors.

Think about it this way – if you want to know the highest mountain in North America, the internet is a great resource but if you dealing with constant head pain, the internet won’t help you. There was recent Twitter based survey that asked people where they get their healthcare advice. You won’t believe this but 54% of respondents said that they use the internet as their primary source of health advice. Is diagnosing yourself really that good of an idea?

As someone who struggled with chronic illness for many years, I do believe in the getting the most accurate care when you are sick. However, the self-diagnosis/do-it-yourself approach doesn’t do it for me. If you are actually thinking about trying the whole do it yourself thing, consider the following:

• If you want right answers, ask the right questions. If you are dealing with constant head pain, don’t spend your day research aneurysms because that is the only possible conclusion you can come to. For all you know, your doctor will diagnose those headaches as migraines and in the meantime, you have driven yourself crazy with this so make sure you get your facts straight.

• Consider the source. Are you reading a research article from medical journal or are you reading something that a company has posted for its own agenda?  As you know there plenty of people out there that practice snake oil sales and the internet has plenty of those kind of sales people waiting for you to fall for their so called cures and diagnoses. As I tell my kids, just because it is on the internet doesn’t mean it is true.

• If it is on the web, it is not about you. The internet can be an educational source but what you are reading doesn’t apply to you, your medical history, family medical history and your specific circumstance. I am a firm believer in learning all you can about your condition but it is important to understand that what you read doesn’t necessarily apply to your unique situation.

• Look for information that is up to date. As you know, the field of medicine is constantly changing and advancing. It changes year by year so check to see when the information was published. If it is an old resource, look to see if you can find an updated version or another more timely reference.

• Avoid the self-diagnosis. Think about the self-fulfilling prophecy in a psychological setting. If you believe something, your behavior will lead it to appear true. In this case, you are likely to influence yourself into self-diagnosis because of the knowledge that you have about the experience or something you are afraid of. For example, if you have a family history of heart attacks, you are more likely to notice chest pain or even think you are having a heart attack simply because it is something that worries you.

The bottom line – it is okay to use the internet as a resource but be smart about it. Don’t stop with what you are reading and follow up with your doctor about what is ailing you.

 

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