Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stop Googling your Symptoms: Doctors Warn

Doctors have warned that they are seeing too many "cyberchondriacs," those patients who misdiagnose their illnesses after Googling their symptoms.
The Australian Medical Association is concerned that the plethora of online medical information is doing more harm than good, with patients increasingly referring to the Internet for advice before consulting a trained GP.

"You can't make a diagnosis using the Internet," AMA vice-president Steve Hambleton said. "Patients turn up with sheets of paper convinced they have a particular problem. "Doctors have to explain why patients haven't got something — before explaining what they have got. It certainly increases stress for the patient.

"Medical practitioners go through a minimum of 10 years of training before they can practice independently. You can't match that with an Internet search engine."

Over the past 12 months most health-related Google searches in Australia were for information related to "symptoms", "blood" and "cancer". Moreover, online queries about "hemorrhoids (sic)" and "thyroid symptoms" have doubled since 2009.

Google's user experience researcher, Dan Russell, said the onus to assess the accuracy and credibility of online information was on the individual. "We now as individuals have access to huge amounts of information and you can pull up thousands and thousands of pages about Alzheimer's or irritable bowel syndrome," Mr Russell said.

"The irony is that people once learned how to look at the page of a book, document or journal and understand roughly how believable it was... but now for basically no money any wacko can write anything and put it on the web."As an individual at home looking at all this stuff, you have to constantly ask, 'Can I believe this?'"

Mosman GP Penny Shaw said simple symptoms were often misconstrued by patients using the Internet, resulting in severe anxiety.

"I've had patients who have come in with a headache thinking they have a brain tumor and many who've had tingling in their fingers and thought they had multiple sclerosis," Dr Shaw said.
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