Dr Google will see you now. Are you overly reliant on the intern

If you’re feeling unwell, what do you do? Do you suffer in silence and tough it out in the hope that your symptoms will subside? Do you call your doctor and make an appointment? Or do you grab your phone and start frantically searching for your symptoms online? If you tend to resort to seeing Dr Google, you’re certainly not alone. More than 40 percent of us use search engines to try and find out more about health problems. Sometimes, this is a useful exercise, but it’s wise to proceed with caution.

When not to rely on the Internet
The trouble with the Internet is that it offers a one-size-fits-all approach to health. It’s not possible for a doctor to look into your eyes, listen to your chest, and feel your abdomen when you type in a few signs and symptoms. What Google and other websites give you is a list of conditions that fit in with your symptoms. If you have stomach pain, for example, the web may tell you there’s a risk of everything from food poisoning and a gastric virus to gallstones, a stomach ulcer or a form of cancer. The reality is that in the vast majority of cases, symptoms will be indicative of something innocuous, but Googling may make you fear the worst. It’s also possible that reading articles may have the opposite effect and make you assume that you’re absolutely fine when really, you would benefit from seeking professional advice. Often, the Internet can be useful, but try and avoid it when you have a sudden onset of symptoms, or your symptoms have become more severe. Spending all your time online could cause you to panic, and the best thing to do in this scenario is see a trained, qualified doctor as soon as possible.

Alternatives to Dr Google
One of the main problems doctors have with the surge in popularity of online symptom checking is the fact that patients are using it as an alternative to seeing a professional. There’s nothing wrong with doing some research if you’re worried, but don’t let the Internet take the place of your doctor. The truth of the matter is that there is always a risk that those pages are inaccurate and the web cannot give you tailored advice or recommendations based on a physical examination or test results. If you have symptoms of an injury, for example, looking at pictures or reading articles online could cause you to underestimate the severity of the situation. A swollen, bruised knee may not look that bad to an untrained eye, but an MRI scan may reveal significant soft tissue damage. Remember that doctors have completed extensive training and they act according to what they see, what they feel and what kind of information you provide. If you’re at all uncertain or you feel unwell, it’s always best to double check with your doctor rather than relying on a machine for a diagnosis.

If you’re guilty of reaching for your phone or a laptop every time you feel unwell, or you think there may be something wrong with you, try and resist the lure of Dr Google. Researching online can be useful, but there’s no substitute for a trained, experienced professional. 

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