Initial diagnosis of symptoms is increasingly being carried out on search engines instead of with doctors, but according to one health professional, few conditions can be diagnosed by patients online.
Dr Victor Chua, a partner at Candesic Healthcare, said that doctor/patient relationships have changed considerably over the past few decades. According to Dr Chua, patients now come to the doctors with extensive research on conditions they believe they have, only to be told in many cases that they are either healthy, or have something completely different.
To combat the reliance on unreliable internet sources, such as certain forums and websites that are not presided over by health professionals, doctors are now recommending reliable websites, or even creating their own content. Taking advice from sources that contain undocumented content can be dangerous in some cases, particularly if the patient is falsely reassured about a condition and delays presentation.
In most cases, however, the effects of internet-related health topics are the opposite, and people become anxious about conditions they often do not have. Dr Chua said: "In practice… what commonly happens is that patients self-diagnose some rare condition when they have something common and straightforward." These people are commonly defined as 'the worried well', and are likely to spend extended periods of time searching for what can often be imaginary ailments.
Using the internet can be useful when it comes to health, but "few conditions can be diagnosed by patients online", Dr Chua explains.
He added: "Even doctors in one speciality are not particularly good at diagnosing themselves when their problem is in a different speciality. Knowing which conditions are common in particular parts of the world and in which ages of patients is poorly documented in textbooks and in internet resources."
Google can tell you the answer for a lot of things, but when it comes to health, the different causal effects, the range of symptoms and a hundred other factors can not be adequately identified through the click of a button.