Scientists have refuted the harm of self-diagnosis by searching for symptoms on the Internet

Admit it, are you also one of those who search on the Internet for an answer to the question “what causes a stabbing pain in the right side”? Good news – scientists have found that diagnoses from Dr. Google are not as harmful and useless as they thought. New research published in JAMA Network Open.

Scientists have refuted the harm of self-diagnosis by searching for symptoms on the Internet 10456

Every day, millions of people search for their symptoms on search engines and often decide to see a doctor after reading about their possible illness. The value of such “diagnosis” is considered controversial by many scientists, since it can be confusing and lead to unnecessary, even unsafe, self-medication. In addition, in trying to understand health problems from articles on the Internet, people increase their anxiety, for which a special term “cyberchondria” even appeared.

“Despite its widespread use span>Doctors Google, the benefits and harms of searching for health information on the Internet have not been well studied because previous work has been largely limited to observational studies. We sought to empirically measure the relationship of Internet search with diagnosis, decision-making and anxiety levels,” the scientists wrote.

The study involved 5 thousand Americans, the average age was 45 years. Volunteers were asked to make a diagnosis based on several criteria, first based on their own knowledge, and then through an Internet search. Symptoms ranged from mild to severe and were related to common diseases and conditions such as heart attack, stroke and viral infections. In addition to determining the diagnosis, participants had to answer the question whether the patient needed medical help and how urgent it was. Possible solutions ranged from “do nothing and just wait” to calling emergency services. Volunteers also assessed their level of anxiety.

On average, the accuracy of the diagnosis before searching on the Internet was 49.8%, and after searching on the Internet – at 54%. At the same time, there was no difference in the accuracy of decision-making about receiving medical care and the level of anxiety; the indicators were comparable both before and after contacting Doctor Google.

In general , approximately three-quarters of participants were able to correctly determine from symptoms how serious a prospective patient's condition was and choose when to see a doctor. Older people with health problems, particularly women, performed best at this task.

“These results call into question the widespread belief among clinicians and policymakers that information seeking talking about your health on the Internet is harmful. We have found that searching for symptoms online only improves the quality of diagnosis. We also did not see a connection with making more radical decisions or increased anxiety. That is, there is no evidence for a hypothetical scenario where a person mistakenly diagnoses himself with a heart attack and calls emergency services,” the study authors wrote.