Dr Google Diagnosis
With a world that is ever increasingly online, it is no surprise that more than a quarter of Britons are turning to the internet to search for their symptoms when feeling unwell. With a ‘doctor’s diagnosis’ just a click away, fewer and fewer people are consulting a GP or pharmacist, and while it is great news that people are taking a proactive interest in their health, are these attempts to self-diagnose doing more harm than good?
While many websites provide us with a wealth of often accurate information, they don’t tend to look at the bigger picture and are not tailored to a specific person’s needs or background. A recent google survey ranked the top 10 most searched-for questions which included key therapy areas such as high blood pressure and infection. Although a lot of online information is correct, it is also easy to get varying and sometimes alarming results.
Living in a digital world, do healthcare professionals need to find a way to stay relevant to patients who are getting used to most other aspects of their life being online? Instead of disregarding people for using the internet to diagnose themselves, maybe we should be encouraging the use of specific sites to help educate the public. Sites such as NHS choices can be used in a positive way to help both doctors and patients, but should be encouraged not as a sole means for diagnosis, but in conjunction with visiting a GP. In fact, the NHS recommends their patients to go online and use symptom checker before admitting themselves. Patients should use the internet constructively to research symptoms, and the possible conditions they may lead to, in order to think of questions to ask a GP, encouraging better communication between patients and their doctor.
Another possibility suggested by Rajnish Mago, psychiatrist and director of the moods disorders programme at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, is the development of a website that would ask patients about their symptoms and use an algorithm to come up with possible problems. The website would then give the patient a list of questions they could then bring with them to their doctor.
There is a definite unmet educational need within healthcare that must be addressed. Online tools can help bridge the gap between patients and doctors and can be harnessed to explore other alternatives and opportunities to help both patients and doctors gain a better understanding of their illness and how it should best be treated.