The accessibility of information today is astounding. So much available at our fingertips. Have a question? Google it. Need directions? MapQuest it. What about when it comes to your health? Have you ever had a question regarding a particular symptom you are experiencing? Did you go online to determine what you have and whether or not you should seek medical attention? Or have you ever thought something peculiar was going on with your body and wanted to see if it was something you should be concerned about? While searching online for answers might put our mind at ease, there are many hazards with online self diagnosing. New research is revealing how inaccurate the online information is especially as it relates to symptom checkers, like WebMD or the Mayo Clinic.
Just this year, Harvard Medical School published a study evaluating the accuracy of these online tools. The results were surprising considering the millions a time a year we utilize symptom checker websites. The study found that only half the time did the symptom checker provide the correct diagnosis. Half. In order to reach this conclusion, the researchers used 45 fake patient symptoms. When the top 3 ailments were provided, only 51% of the cases had the correct diagnosis within the top 3. Plus, only 34% of the time, the online symptom checkers had the correct ailment as the first most likely option.
Another hazard with online self-diagnosing is knowing when to really seek medical attention. If there is only an accuracy rate of 50%, then you may go to the doctor without really needing to. Fear is likely the motivating factor here, suggested the researchers. Fear of something more serious happening with that person’s health. Many times simply seeing the list of potential illnesses is enough to create profound fear and anxiety in an individual.
While there is certainly some benefit to using these online self diagnosing tools, we cannot place all our faith in them. They can provide some insight and guidelines, but it does not substitute the benefits of interacting in person with a doctor. You know your body best. Listen to it. Advocate for yourself when you suspect something is wrong, but don’t jump to conclusions. Another option you might consider is building a relationship with a Doctor of Chiropractic. Most, if not all, practices welcome walk-ins. If you are a regular patient, walking in to talk to your Chiropractor when you have a troubling symptom can give you the peace of mind you need, without being misled by an inaccurate online self-diagnosis.