It's Probably Not Cancer: Self-Diagnosis Using Online Medical Information Is Rarely Reliable

Doctors are still much better than services like Google and WebMD at diagnosing and treating patients for medical conditions

It's Probably Not Cancer: Online Health Information Is Not Always Reliable
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April 4, 2019

Modern technology has put a wealth of information of all types at our fingertips, so it's little wonder that we turn to Google at the first sign of a problem. Unfortunately, when we self-diagnose our medical concerns with the help of online resources such as search engines and WebMD, we are often inaccurate. The result is a sense of panic about a medical condition that in all likelihood doesn't apply.

Online diagnosis is often inaccurate

Some online sources of health information can be better than others, but you still shouldn't be relying upon them to diagnose your own medical concerns. While some sources may be substantiated by peer-reviewed literature, some sources may be completely unreliable. You may look into services that provide you with a symptom checker, but these are often incorrect and only provide you a long list of possible conditions ranging from a simple headache to brain cancer. Just as a word to the wise: you probably don't have brain cancer if you use one of these checkers.

Dangers of self-diagnosis

Doctors endure years of medical school and even more years in practical training in order to understand the subtle nuances that medical diagnose entails. When you assume that you can do the same thing without training, you can miss a large number of subtleties. Something that may be normal depending upon what is going on in your life, such as a mood swing or anxiety, can be misinterpreted as a psychological disorder. Even worse, there may be a legitimate physical condition that masquerades as something psychological, such as anxiety that could be an irregular heart beat.

When you diagnose yourself, you are undermining the doctor-patient relationship. But worse is when a patient makes a self-diagnosis and insists on a treatment that isn't needed, which can distract the doctor from another condition. Some doctors may ultimately give in and prescribe treatment based upon your self-diagnosis that you really don't need.

Doctors are really better

While it is true that there are some doctors out there who make mistakes or who don't do their jobs as well as they should, your doctor should be the first place you go when you have a medical concern. Avoid the temptation to visit the Internet in order to bring your diagnosis to the doctor.

if you doubt your doctor

Let's face it. Sometimes it's not really possible to understand how your doctor came to a conclusion unless you have a solid grasp of medical science. So if you have questions about a diagnosis or if you question the diagnosis itself, politely ask questions. Your doctor can help you understand how the conclusion was reached. Just as an example of how a doctor can do this, you may be a man and suspect that you have a particular condition. But the doctor's reasoning that the condition only affects women might be enough to assure you that a diagnosis (or lack of one) is right.

If you still aren't convinced and think there's something wrong, you are always welcome to and should get a second opinion.