Who needs a doctor appointment when you can just search the internet for whatever symptoms you’re experiencing, right? Wrong. While DIY diagnosis is incredibly popular—72 percent of people who use the internet say they’ve done an online health search within the past year—it isn’t always that accurate. In fact, a recent study by Harvard Medical School found that people who use online symptom trackers to get a diagnosis were given the correct answer first just 34 percent of the time.
That said, most people are still going to research symptoms online. If you fall into that group, here are five tips for a more effective search and better results:
Consider the source: You can’t believe everything you read online, so take a critical look at what website you’re reading. Is it associated with a major research hospital, university or government organization? If not, you may want to take any of the “facts” you find there with a grain of salt. A solid site will also include sources for all of the statistics and data. Unsure where to start? The Medical Library Association has an ongoing list of credible health websites.
Focus on less-serious issues: It can be very helpful to research online how to deal with a non-emergency situation, like how to remove allergens from your home if your son has asthma. It can be a lot less helpful to research warning signs of cancer.
Take a deep breath and don’t worry: Keep in mind that what one person has gone through is not always indicative of what you may be experiencing. Most symptoms fit more than one condition and they can range from mild to severe. You may be alarmed by the worst case scenario, but your doctor, who’s trained in health and knows your personal history, will be able to provide you with a more accurate diagnosis.
Limit your search time: Researching health issues online for too long may result in cyberchondria (when you read about something online and become convinced you’re suffering from it). If you keep re-reading the same thing and feel yourself panicking, it’s time to power down your laptop and take a break.
Talk to your doctor: When in doubt about a symptom, it’s always best to visit your doctor, who has years of training, knows your medical history and will be able to walk you through all of the possibilities. And don’t be afraid to mention you did some digging around online—your physician knows patients do their own research and he or she will be able to calm your fears or take what you are worried about into account.
For help communicating your fears to your doctor, read these other posts from this site as well as A Healthier Michigan:
- Too Embarrassed to Talk to Your Doctor? 5 Tips to Open the Dialogue
- Become Your Doctor’s Favorite Patient
- The One Thing That Can Improve Your Relationship With Your Doctor
Photo credit: Yagan Kiely