Do you consult Google more often than your own doctor? Do you trust it enough to self-diagnose and self-medicate? If your answer is yes, you are not alone. A lot of young Indians are doing this — and it seems as if this trend isn’t going away anytime soon.
Take the case of Shalini Naik, a 26-year-old marketing professional from Kolkata. A self-confessed Googler, she says she uses it to take care of her health problems too.
“I am one of those people who hates going to the doctor, and have a low threshold for pain. So I often turn to Google when I am feeling under the weather. On most counts, it has helped me feel better.
“Okay once, I did get a mild allergic reaction when I took some antibiotics and had no option to consult my human doc. I don’t really self-medicate now, but I still think if you are careful, you are pretty much home free.”
With us being netizens, it is a given that we are going to look up medical symptoms. But what happens when we go too far?
Here are some of the perils of consulting Dr Google and popping pills without prescription:
The Internet is not completely reliable and can make you really sick
It’s true that we get most of our information and news online, and much of it is from trusted sources. But sometimes, we run into sites that misinform, either by accident or on purpose.
When it comes to our health, this can wreak havoc on our peace of mind. After all, cyberchondria — believing that you suffer from all the illnesses you read about online — is real! And it can make things worse, even mess up your immune system.
We asked an expert to weigh in. Chennai oncologist Venkatraman Radhakrishnan addresses his concern over the false/contradicting info online.
He says, “My biggest worry when people use Google to diagnose their illness and self-medicate is the plethora of unverified and false information available on the Internet. This can be harmful and make a person’s condition worse.
“A layperson cannot discern what is right or wrong without adequate medical training. Similarly, outdated stuff is still available on the net, which may have no relevance for treating an illness currently.
“A computer algorithm cannot replace the clinical skills of a good physician. I would strongly dissuade the public from using Google to treat themselves.”
Self-diagnosis can prevent you from getting better
There’s nothing wrong in trying to figure out what you are suffering from. It becomes a problem only when people are adamant to accept anything other than what they think they have.
People who read up about illnesses online tend to approach their doctor in a ‘I know what I am suffering from, I just need you to agree with me’ frame of mind.
Pune dentist Humerah Inamdar, 31, thinks such an attitude can worsen a pre-existing health condition. “There are both pros and cons of looking up medical conditions online. Patients are more aware of medical terms, thus making it easier for doctors to explain their diagnosis.
“But some patients are convinced that they have diagnosed themselves correctly, and it is very hard to convince them otherwise. There have even been cases in which patients visit multiple doctors because they are sure their self-diagnosis is the only one that’s right.
“Doing so only prolongs illness. The time that could be spent in treatment gets wasted in doctor shopping.
“I advise everyone to visit a doctor instead of simply consulting the web. Ask your questions and share your views, but be prepared to hear a different diagnosis.”
What to do instead
Many of us are guilty of looking up symptoms to get to the root of our health problems. A little light Googling, even before you see your doctor, is not a problem. Just make sure you follow that up with a visit to your doctor with an open mind.
If you can’t do that, it’s best to look up your condition only after you have been diagnosed by a real doctor. This way you can truly educate yourself instead of worrying about what you may or may not be suffering from.
In conclusion, don’t get swayed by the easy access of medical information online. You are not an expert no matter how much you research. Even with all the excellent symptom checkers and health apps out there, we haven’t yet reached that stage where technology can fill in for medical practitioners.
Google is not your doctor — at least, not yet.
Image Credit: Nikhil Mudaliar