DOCTOR GOOGLE…

I’m not a huge fan of Dr Google. Maybe it is because I work in the health field but I do feel he can do more harm than good!

I am all for people being informed about their health, but self diagnosis and seriously scaring yourself into thinking you have a serious disease (because you have all the symptoms) – I’m not ok with that. Mostly because many diseases present with the same or similar symptoms – how can you be sure which problem you have, if in fact you have a serious one at all?

In New Zealand, it is your Doctor’s job to diagnose. Naturopaths are not allowed to diagnose, and neither should Dr Google. Interestingly, according to a study out of Princess Alexandra hospital in Australia, doctors ARE using Dr Google successfully to diagnose illness – and that’s my point. If you have a bit of medical knowledge you would know if what you are reading is fake or not – if you don’t it can be a scary exercise. Not to mention an expensive one if you decide to stock up on all the expensive cures touted online.

How many times have I met a new patient who says “I think I have @AB#!, seriously, I have all the symptoms.”  As I said, my concern here is that many illnesses share many of the same symptoms. Not seeking a qualified professional diagnosis and relying on Dr G instead can sometimes mean the difference between a good outcome and a poor one.

Of course, everybody googles their symptoms and that has enabled us to become more knowledgeable about our health, which is good, but the flip side is people are getting scared. Apparently, nearly half of all health googlers end up more anxious than they were before they logged on because some  medical sites, blogs, and Wikipedia pages can present confusing misinformation.

Maybe you feel it is inconvenient  or too expensive to make an appointment to see your doctor or naturopath and it’s SO much faster on the net! It takes seconds to type symptoms into a search engine…and just a few more to learn that those persistent gut spasms could be IBS, or Crohn’s Disease or bowel cancer!! OR it could just be food sensitivity and a lot of gas! On the plus side, this can lead to people seeking medical attention so from that point of view I can see it is a bit of a double edged sword.

“Marie” had been tired for weeks. A web search for “fatigue” brought up site after site describing her exact symptoms and she was convinced  she had chronic fatigue syndrome. So, of course, she ordered supplements online from the US which promised to fix the problem. When they didn’t—several months and hundreds of dollars later—a blood test revealed she was actually anaemic. “Marie” is actualy a real person I met on one of my training trips. I have heard of cases where people are spending upwards of $300 ordering supplements from overseas websites which promise to “fix” their problem because “the website says they will”.  It is very concerning. In the $300 case it was for just a multivitamin and mineral supplement. I think money would be better spent on a good broad based multivitamin with similar ingredients for $30 from the local pharmacy or naturopath and only if it were needed.

A Nielsen Online Survey in March 2014 found that more than 80 percent of the population check out health help online, and around 60 percent of searches are done specifically to diagnose a medical condition. Psychologists have actually given this symptom obsession, real or imagined a name: Cyberchondria. In a recent study by Fergus, it was found that medical googlers experienced health anxiety because of their intolerance to uncertainty. (Weller, 2015)

I think it is important to remember that there is probably a non life threatening explanation for what you are feeling – and if you are really worried, don’t assume the worst. Make the time to see your Naturopath or GP. Peace of Mind is priceless!

 

References:

Fergus, T. (2013). Cyberchondria and intolerance of uncertainty: examining when individuals experience health anxiety in response to Internet searches for medical information. PubMed.

Goldberg, I. (n.d.). Paging Dr Google. Retrieved from Glaucoma Today : http://glaucomatoday.com/pdfs/gt0315_pointers.pdf

Weller, C. (2015, May 07). Medical Daily. Retrieved May 31, 2015, from www.medicaldaily.com: http://www.medicaldaily.com/dr-google-breeds-hypochondria-scaring-people-thinking-worst-332316

 

By Joanna Vinsen BNatMed HbT


Joanna Loveys
Joanna Loveys

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