Websites like WebMD are redefining the roles of doctor and patient, and not in a positive way.
The Internet has made everything a click away and, medically speaking, this means that both valuable and inaccurate information is at the fingertips of any person who wants it. The side effects of websites like WebMD aren’t all bad, but that doesn’t mean the average Joe should depend on them.
Websites like WebMD give doctors access to a wealth of information that can help them diagnose a variety of illnesses using the information online that was previously limited to hard-to-reach specialists, according to Mashable. That same information, though, is hazardous in the hands of patients that don’t fully understand it.
Dr. Aditi Nerurkar, a primary care physician at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said in the Mashable article that she sees patients every day who use the Internet as a way to diagnose themselves. They oftentimes come in worried about the dangerous diseases they learned about.
“While I love their sense of curiosity and ownership of their health, their online searches can – and often do – go awry,” she said.
The fear and anxiety that online medical searches cause even has its own diagnosis now. Cyberchondria is the fear and preoccupation with medical concerns that are brought on by self-diagnosis and health research done online.
Many people try to find their symptoms and ailments based on Internet searches, according to Mashable. Many Internet users come across false information and rare and horrific diseases which can cause more harm than good.
I’m not saying that WebMD is awful and should never be used, but most people don’t use it correctly, myself included. Seventy-two percent of Internet users say that they have searched online for health information and advice, but (thankfully) 70 percent of U.S. adults still got information or care from a doctor or health care professional, according to the most recent survey conducted by the PEW Research Center.
Other potential problems that online health searches can cause include being over emotional about symptoms and putting off the inevitable (going to the doctor), according to CNN article, “Be careful when diagnosing your ailments online.”
Doctors aren’t there to be your psychiatrist. Yes, they are there to tell you what’s wrong, but they shouldn’t have to spend an hour promising you that you don’t have cancer (a common WebMD ailment). On the other hand, just because you searched something online doesn’t mean you should continue to avoid a trip to see your doctor.
Just knowing how to search the Internet doesn’t make all normal citizens doctors.
“Google doesn’t count as a second opinion,” according to CNN. “If you’re unhappy with your doc’s diagnosis, go get one the traditional way.”
I used to depend on WebMD for instant advice when I was feeling sick or had unknown muscle aches, but now searching online really irritates me. I’m not a doctor, and all the guessing in the world isn’t going to make me feel better; it’s going to make me worry myself sick.
When it comes down to it, medical websites are run off of databases that match key words to their log of ailments and symptoms. They don’t really narrow down the possibilities, and using them could cause you to over diagnose or to even under diagnose, which can be just as dangerous.
According to WebMD, you could have the flu or cancer … but all you actually know for sure is that you have body aches. In the end, searching illnesses online isn’t really helping anyone other than the professionals who actually know what it all means.
Courtney Burke is a senior in mass communications.