Do you self-diagnose? Research shows you shouldn’t

May 19, 2014 in Disease Management  •  By Miles Varn
It's not wise to rely on the Internet for important health information.

When you experience physical symptoms – a cough, a headache, some muscle pain – you might try to diagnose yourself by turning to the Internet.

Experts from the Pew Research Internet Project reported on a survey that indicated 72 percent of Internet users had gone online to search for health-related information during the previous year. Within this group, 77 percent started their queries by going to Google, Yahoo!, Bing or a similar search engine. Thirteen percent began at medically oriented websites, such as WebMD, 2 percent went to general sites and online encyclopedias, and 1 percent began with social media.

This can be cause for concern because information on the Internet is not necessarily accurate or applicable to your specific situation.

For their study, the authors investigated the quality of health information on search engines by conducting several online searches for health information. When the types of search and information were broken down by health topic, the quality of information rose and fell across the board. Specifically, lower quality results were returned for searches that used general search engines like Google, while better quality results were returned when the searchers used health-related resources like WebMD.

Consult a professional

Using the Internet to diagnose yourself is not a prudent option. The Pew study found that professional medical sources are vitally important when you need an accurate medical diagnosis, information about prescription drugs or alternative treatments and referrals to a specialist or hospital.

You should see your doctor if you experience symptoms you’re concerned about or want information about health issues or treatment options.

A personal health advisor can be an additional resource that complements your doctor’s advice and can also help you if you’re seeking a second opinion. Your advisor can provide evidence-based, objective information on health issues and treatment options, a better option than the questionable information you may find on the Internet.