People turn to the internet for online medical advice for a variety of reasons. Some people to help them try to diagnose an illness. Others to get a better understanding of health and wellness issues to improve the quality of their lives.
Numerous websites provide medical information. Some of the well known reputable websites include WebMD, the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic. You can learn a lot on topics such as nutrition, exercise, common symptoms of diseases, drugs, holistic medicine to name a few.
There are more and more independent doctors and health care experts- such as myself- who share their expertise in a particular area such as type 2 diabetes or other chronic illnesses. This is called information marketing and is geared toward empowering people to make healthier lifestyle choices as well as directing people to a healthcare professional who may be able to help with their medical issues.
I love the fact that as healthcare providers and experts in our various fields, we can provide all this information on this global platform. It is clear based on internet searches that people want this knowledge.
There are also a lot of not so reputable health information websites. Some of the information that may be downright wrong or misleading.
Because of this, it is crucial to verify the credentials of the source you are getting your information. One of the ways you can do this is, to find out if a healthcare professional who is board-certified wrote the info on the website.
A board-certified physician has completed a residency program in their chosen specialty and also has gone a step further to pass a standardized examination. Depending on the specialty, board-certified physicians are required to undergo ‘continuing medical education’ (CME). Most insurance providers and also hospitals mandate that a physician is board certified. To confirm whether your healthcare provider is board certified click here.
Cyberchondria – the danger of online medical advice
A lot of people search the internet for the answers to common health concerns. It is not unusual for patients to come to see their healthcare provider, armed with information from a web search. I experience patients referring to the results of their internet searches on a reasonably regular basis.
There are some dangers with seeking online medical advice. The most common is getting wrong information. Some websites show up high on search engines, but they provide the worse case scenarios. You could be getting the wrong advice–with severe consequences.
Some people become so obsessed with the advice they get on the internet. They may continuously feel that something terrible is happening to them. They are always thinking the worst and use the internet to validate this feeling.
This constant obsession with the ‘worst-case scenario’ for what may be standard medical conditions is called cyberchondria. Cyberchondria can become very serious and disabling. Someone suffering from cyberchondria may not even realize how this is affecting their ability to function.
Cyberchondriacs spend a lot of time and resources going back and forth to see their healthcare provider armed with their latest findings from their internet research. They may end up demanding medical tests and procedures. And they may move from one healthcare provider to another if they do not get the answers to validate how sick they feel.
How to deal with cyberchondria
So let’s say you are that person (or you know a person 🙂 I’ve described in this article, what can you do? Just like a hypochondriac, cyberchondriacs believe that what they are suffering from is real. Dismissing someone with cyberchondria and telling them it’s “all in their head” is not going to work. In fact, it may cause them to isolate themselves and not open up to their loved ones or worse still their healthcare providers.
The best advice I can give anyone obsessed with continually searching the internet for medical illness is to stop searching the web. Just as I would advise an alcoholic not to just ‘drink a little.’ Take an internet and social media holiday.
The next step is to seek the advice of a competent and compassionate therapist. Talk therapy can be very therapeutic. It can help to ease the anxiety associated with cyberchondria. Talk therapy can also provide coping skills and tools.
In summary, the best approach to using the internet for online medical advice is to be curious yet cautious. Use reputable sites. Do not go to the Internet looking for worst-case scenarios. And finally, know when to stop and seek the timely help of a qualified healthcare professional.
To your health and wellbeing,