The Internet Is Not A Medical Expert

(Originally posted on bcotoronto.com on Sept 8th, 2011)

There is a growing problem with the technology age. More and more medical information is available to the public via the internet. This poses the problem of self diagnosis. Generally speaking there is nothing wrong with saying to yourself, “I have the worst headache ever”. The problem arises when you type into a search engine “Worst Headache Ever”.

Google produces results like this; 

Google Search

Suddenly fear turns a simple turn of phrase into the worst headache of your life and you are convinced you are having a stroke, or meningitis, or a subdural hemorrhage. There are other symptoms that characterize these conditions that are used to diagnose them. We are incredibly impressionable creatures by nature. The internet suggests something and fear implants that idea in our minds, building up a potential calamity out of something simple.

Doctors of all types have received special and in depth training in how to ask the right questions, sort through all of the information, and come to a proper diagnosis. This is not an easy task and should not be attempted without the appropriate education. There are patterns and timelines that indicate different subtleties which are lost when reading information from the web.

The best thing to do when you are worried about your health is to go to your doctor. If you can’t get in to see your doctor then sit calmly for a few minutes and mentally check how and what you are feeling before you turn to the internet. This will help to battle the impressionable nature of fear when researching your symptoms.

Please don’t get me wrong. The wealth of information on the internet is extremely useful but when looking up topics that a very important to us personally, like our health, it is important to approach it in the right way and not get swept away in the fear and anxiety that goes with it.

To this point I have discussed the use of the internet for medical needs under assumption that the information being found is accurate. This is a very big assumption. Anyone can post anything on the internet and that includes medical information. You have to be careful and check the source of your information. Wikipedia is not a safe source of medical knowledge. Sites like WebMD, the Institute of Functional Medicine, and other institutions or organizations wholly devoted to medical practice and research are where you should focus your searches.

As always, thanks for reading.

Dr Ben

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