Survey findings highlight rise of ‘cyberchondria’
If you are unfortunate enough to experience an unexplained medical problem, it can be very tempting to go online to search for answers, rather than seeking the advice of a medical professional. But whilst it may seem easier and quicker to use ‘Dr. Google’ as the first port of call, experts have this week urged people to avoid attempting to digitally diagnose.
The statistics show that using the internet to look for medical information has become a widespread trend – Best Doctors, along with Balance Activ, the women’s health brand, recently commissioned IPSOS Mori to conduct a survey of 1,000 women in the UK. The findings suggest that half of women have diagnosed themselves online and bought a treatment without checking with pharmacists.
The survey suggested that one in four British women has misdiagnosed themselves on the internet, then gone on to buy the wrong medication with which to treat themselves. One in ten have admitted to suffering unpleasant side effects as a result.
Further to this, half of the respondents said they would always seek to treat medical problems themselves before consulting with doctors. One in ten said they hesitated to discuss health problems with family or friends, whilst a quarter said they “dread” speaking to doctors.
These findings are of concern because incorrect self-diagnosis can cause unnecessary stress and worry. A fifth of women surveyed admitted that at some point they suspected had a serious disease, with the most common false alarm being over breast cancer. Thrush, high blood pressure or asthma are among other commonly misdiagnosed conditions.
Despite all this, it is worth noting that there can be benefits to accessing the abundance of online medical advice, as patients are now using the internet to verify the findings of their doctor and supplementing the information they have been given. Indeed, 89% of those responding said they would go online to learn more following diagnosis by their doctor.
Dominic Howard, from Best Doctors, commented: “Whilst we welcome individuals taking more control of their health, clearly the ability of those with no medical training to interpret correctly health information on the internet and to distinguish between what is reliable and relevant is questionable. In some cases it can also cause unnecessary anxiety as the phenomenon of ‘cyberchondria’ grows.
This can be a symptom of… the embarrassment and inconvenience of having to go back and seek medical information face-to-face. In other cases the internet is simply a means of avoiding discussing health issues with anyone at all.”
Penny McCormick, from Balance Activ, added: “The web gives us a wealth of information that can be useful in reducing our worries until we’re able to gain proper advice from a medical authority, but the results show how easy it is to make mistakes when diagnosing ourselves.”
“It’s important we learn which information to trust online and that we’re able to make the distinction between what can be self-diagnosed and easily treated, and what definitely requires the help of a medical professional. What can seem like a relatively harmless but embarrassing symptom could develop into something more serious, so it is important [to ask] the right questions and treat certain conditions effectively.”
Broadly speaking, expatriates tend to be fairly web-savvy – this general internet competency evidenced by the expat community enjoying a considerable online presence across blogs, forums and social media. This, when coupled with challenges such as language barriers, inconvenience and procedural uncertainly, mean that they are highly likely to be implicated in this worrying trend for preferring online self-diagnosis to obtaining professional medical advice.
It is important to remember that symptoms can affect people differently, so seeking the advice of a doctor is always a far more prudent option than becoming unnecessarily anxious. The wealth of medical information online can be useful, but because it’s only natural to assume the worst, ‘Dr. Google’ should always be approached with an open mind.
Overcoming issues of embarrassment or unease is worthwhile for the sense of reassurance that professional medical advice can instill. This sense of reassurance can be heightened by ensuring that you have the right health insurance cover in place. One of the benefits of William Russell’s Global Health Platinum plan is $550 for a well-being health screening (after 12 months cover), which would certainly address any medical worries or concerns. The rest of the comprehensive plan benefits mean that should you encounter the misfortune of serious ill-health, you can afford the best medical treatment. For more information about the Platinum plan click here, or call +44 (0) 1276 486455 to speak to a member of the team.
Sources – Daily Mail 18 Apr 12, Cover magazine 19 April 12, The Telegraph 18 Apr 12