It seems that the age of information forever changed the way we think, communicate, and indeed look for medical help. While it is very hard to dispute the numerous benefits these developments are introducing into our lives, in the latter case the word “change” does not always have a positive implication. On the contrary, the number of people trying to resolve their health issues online is something to be concerned about.
The Explosion of Web Diagnoses
According to recent findings from Pew Researches Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 59% of American adults looked online for some kind of health information, and 41% of those inquirers had the diagnose they found confirmed by a clinician. Also, FrontileER claims that 77% of their patients looked for web diagnosis before booking an appointment. It should be obvious than that “Dr. Google” can occasionally be useful, but the real question is not that. It is how reliable is acquiring medical help online in the first place?
Information or Misinformation?
Today, typing the keywords “online health information” in some search engine will lead you to more than 54 million results, and here lies the first problem of online diagnoses. Instead of visiting some trustworthy website, 82% of users are starting their research process with search engines. Furthermore, majority of provided results do not lead to websites sponsored by government agencies, hospitals, universities, and other reputable healthcare organizations, but forums, uncredited websites, and the ones promoting the alternative medicaments. Couple that with the fact only 6% of visitors are actually posting on such websites, and you will see that majority of health-related information, and opinions floating online are unreliable, inconclusive, and extremely one-sided.
Are Teenagers the Most Endangered?
Younger people have much less experience in dealing with real medical staff then adults, and the fact that they are more tech-savvy makes the probability that they will look for an answer online more likely. Fear of stigmatization and embarrassment while inquiring about some sensitive topics makes chasm between teenagers and doctors even larger. How this endangers teenagers more than adults, though? To put it simply, teenagers have much less experience in recognizing the symptoms than adults. Psychological changes linked with this age can create issues which are even harder to recognize, so they tend to ignore them completely. Such poor medical literacy makes teenagers’ chances of finding the right answers amongst the myriad of unreliable health information very small.
A Cure to the Disease?
Looking at all of these unsettling data makes clear that the problem is massive, so the set of precautionary measures necessary for solving it should be equally as extensive. What is the most important is to introduce health issues in education programs in larger volumes, and bring health institutions more closely to young people. This way their mutual relationship can be encouraged early on, and nourished much easier. Furthermore, people should be discouraged to seek medical help exclusively online with mandatory website disclaimers. Any opportunity to discuss these issues in the popular media should not be wasted, either.
As we can see the problem is present, persistent, and very dangerous. Still, with enough institutional support, and exposure in media, sending Dr. Google in retirement does not have to be an impossible task.