The Internet gives us access to a wealth of medical information at our fingertips. Yet it can also be a double-edged sword. Many of us have fallen down the rabbit hole of Googling our symptoms: What starts out as a probable cold turns into a likely case of terminal cancer.
Perhaps because of this tendency to get side-tracked by overwhelming information, some doctors advise patients not to look up their symptoms online. They point out that there’s a distinction between reading medical information and correctly interpreting and applying it. The latter requires specialized skill and training.
What’s more, doctors have access to volumes of studies and journal articles that aren’t readily available to the average user online. They can more effectively sift through the often conflicting (and confusing) research to make sense of the latest developments.
Knowledge is power
But does all this mean we should never look up health information online?
Certainly not. There’s no denying the benefits of patient education in general. The better informed you are, the better your ability to take charge of your own health and well-being.
What’s more, by becoming knowledgeable about your health conditions, you’ll be in a better position to spot red flags that indicate it’s time to seek a second opinion – or that point to potential malpractice.
A sensible approach
When it comes to researching specific symptoms and suspected conditions, however, it’s important to use common sense. Follow these tips to make sure you don’t get carried away:
- Limit your time spent researching ailments, especially if you have a tendency toward anxiety or hypochondria (or “cyberchondria,” as one article cleverly puts it). You should never end up wasting hours per day researching health issues. Recognize when it’s time to stop and move on with your life.
- Keep an open mind. Remember that research can be easily misinterpreted. Before you pin all your hopes on that experimental therapy you read about online, realize there may be downsides or limitations you’re not aware of. It’s your doctor’s job to help you make informed decisions by walking you through all the relevant considerations in light of your unique situation.
- Always follow up with your doctor. Don’t diagnose yourself, and most importantly, don’t quit taking prescribed medications (or otherwise abandon your established treatment plan) just because you read something alarming. Whenever questions or doubts come up, raise them openly and honestly with your doctor.
To sum up, it’s not always a bad idea to consult the Internet about your health issues and concerns. Just make sure you don’t let Dr. Google replace your real-world care team.