Eamon Brown

The doctor is not in – the dangers of self-diagnosis

Eamon Brown cautions those of us who attempt self-diagnosis of our medical issues with the “help” of the internet – what we need is an optimal dose of common sense.

 

Everyone types symptoms into google with the ultimate conclusion they have cancer – it happens all the time and everyone freaks out.

Just how reliant are we becoming on the use of information technology, to assist us with self-diagnosis? A study recently published in the British Medical Journal talks about the evaluation of symptoms using self-diagnosis and triage programs, concluding that these symptom evaluation apps generally encourage patients to seek medical attention and advice even when it is not needed.

This whole googling of your symptoms might seem harmless, however, it can potentially have massive ramifications, particularly in Australia with our already crowded health care system. At this point, I should probably point out that diagnosis is multifaceted and a very complex process involving many components that ultimately leads to a definitive diagnosis. Doctors can spend many years of their life training to provide a diagnosis for a patient.

Medical information is all relative and can be subjective. In my opinion, that is being shown in the results from this study. When someone shows the slightest of symptoms, but reads that it could be much more serious, suddenly their brain induces a state of anxiety whereby they seek will medical attention, when it might not have been necessary.

These MD apps and Google searches will never replace doctors in this instance, nor should they. Unless it’s combined with a doctor in real time, it is advisable to trust your instincts rather than jumping to the conclusions to which the information may allude. These apps recommend that you should see your doctor anyway and, as mentioned earlier, self-diagnosing could result in unnecessary tests being conducted or longer hospital waiting times. Basically, you are wasting your own time, causing yourself anxiety and placing further pressure on an already strained system. While a good study, further research should be conducted to determine if these apps are, in fact, increasing the unnecessary use of hospital services and how our digital age is impacting diagnosis en masse.

So, do these apps have a place with a technologically advancing medical system? The answer is yes, but probably not to be used in self-diagnosis of illness, but rather in selecting treatments for already diagnosed individuals. These technologies are emerging and creating an exciting area in medicine that empowers the patient.

Trust yourself and your rational thoughts. If you feel well enough to not have to actually visit a doctor, don’t. If you are worried about that spot on your arm that has changed shape recently, put the laptop down and go see your doctor, who can give you the optimal dose of common sense.

 

Eamon Brown

Eamon is a Public Health professional, with an interest in the Clinical sciences arena. He has previously worked in Sleep & Respiratory Physiology, Ophthalmology (eye infection research), Neurological clinical trials and Neurophysiology technology. His latest endeavors consisted of looking at and researching post-operative outcomes of patients with Upper Gastrointestinal cancers, leading to the creation of the Hospital based Upper Gastrointestinal Outcomes (HUGO) database, at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and the wider Sydney Local Health District. He has previously been awarded a commonwealth scholarship to study a Bachelor of Medical Science at the University of Technology, Sydney (2011), a Master of Public Health, from the University of Sydney (2015). His work has been featured in the Sun Herald, The Public Health Association of Australia Intouch newsletter & ABC Radio.

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