The Dangers of Diagnosing Online
Sue Hubbard, M.D.
Here I am on the Internet writing about the dangers of diagnosing yourself or your children via information on the Web. The Internet is a valuable resource; I can't remember what I used to do before I could "Google" something for a quick answer. You don't need a phone book or even a map anymore, with so much information available online. When it comes to medicine, however, there's still nothing as effective and reliable as seeing a doctor in person and having a physical exam.
The hazards of using the Internet as your own medical textbook can be great. The Internet is a resource, not a doctor. As Sir
I often tell parents and patients to use the Internet as an adjunct once a diagnosis has been made. The Internet may be a great resource to provide further information about a specific problem or disease. But when searching online, make sure you're using a resource backed by good research and one that is reputable and reliable.
Many postings on the web can be anecdotal rather than factual, and there are no requirements when it comes to posting information. In other words, you don't have to go to medical school and get a degree to "publish" on the Internet.
I sometimes see a worried parent in my office, whose child may have awakened during the night with a "tummy ache." Despite the fact that the child had already gone back to sleep, the parents stayed up searching the Internet for information on "abdominal pain."
Due to their Internet "research," the parents have convinced themselves that their child must have appendicitis, and by morning they're convinced that testing is warranted (of course, they read every blog about "missed appendicitis"). The child may have had no other symptoms than that "tummy ache," slept the rest of the night, awakened feeling just fine, ate breakfast and was plainly ready for the day. Yet, the parents appear in my office, often 8-12 hours later, asking for more tests and planning for imminent surgery. They've scared themselves into wanting CAT scans and ultrasounds to "make sure" nothing is missed.
A good review of the child's history and physical exam is often all that's needed in the case of the "mystery midnight tummy ache." The only thing that came of that Internet research is that the parent had 12 hours of a tummy ache worrying about obscure diagnoses rather than heading back to bed themselves.
So, beware of using the Internet for research without knowing what you're researching. Always use reputable web sites and check out the credentials of those providing information. Beware of people or companies providing information that are not in the mainstream and don't provide valid scientific research to back their claims for a "cure." When in doubt, ask your own doctor. I am sure he or she will have an opinion on the pros and cons of online diagnosing.
Available at Amazon.com:
- The Dangers of Diagnosing Online
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