Why you should always consult a health professional
Most of us have online access to an infinite amount of information, on any topic imaginable. This is especially true when it comes to self-diagnosis of signs and symptoms, where we piece together what we are feeling and experiencing into a definable disease.
Humans have an insatiable thirst for answers, to be able to define and label something. We are extremely uncomfortable with not knowing what is wrong with us, and feel that labelling it will help us find the best antidote for our problem. We often do this without consulting with a health professional, which can be costly, dangerous and even have life-threatening results.
Danger No.1: Paying for the consequences
For even a small ailment, self-diagnosis and treatment can end up costing you a lot more than if you saw your health professional from the outset. One example (from my very own clinic) is the treatment of hyper-pigmentation (or melasma), the appearance of dark patches or liver spots on the face. Many women try to treat this with expensive creams or lotions, spend $1,000’s on laser resurfacing and facials, and never really get rid of the problem. This is because in many cases melasma can be the result of an underlying hormonal imbalance that no cream or laser treatment can touch. What is needed in this case is a holistic approach to balance the hormones and the skin together.
Danger No. 2: Misdiagnosis
One of the most obvious problems with consulting Dr Google, misdiagnosing yourself can be potentially dangerous. According to a survey of 1,000 women conducted by a large UK women’s health brand, when looking to treat what they felt to be an ‘embarrassing’ health problem, half the respondents would self-diagnose on the internet instead of seeking professional advice. Of these self-diagnosers, 50% would self-treat with medicine solely based on their research. This condition was bacterial vaginosis (BV) which in serious cases can increase the risk of STDs, infertility and miscarriage.
Danger No.3: Taking potentially harmful medication
Once you have self-diagnosed you may be tempted to purchase the suggested medication on the internet. There are thousands of online, unregulated and rogue ‘pharmaceutical’ stores available, many of which appear legitimate. Aside from the danger that you are self-medicating with a drug that could cause you harm, there is the risk that the product you buy is contaminated, fake, or does not contain the correct ingredients. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that up to one per cent of medicines available in the developed world, and 10 per cent globally, are fake. The governing body for medicine in Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) cannot regulate overseas websites and therefore have no way of enforcing their strict safety, quality and efficacy standards.
Danger No.4: Developing cyberchondria
According to Wikipedia, cyberchondria is “unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomology based on review of search results and literature online.” In other words, some individual’s will spend quite a bit of time researching either real or perceived symptoms (such a headache), jumping to the worst conclusions. Ironically, this can lead to serious (and very real) mental and physical health issues for that individual and the need for far more medical care than they originally required.
Danger No. 5: Google may not have your best interests at heart
For those of you who don’t know, Google works on a series of complicated algorithms (or mathematical formulas) that help it match your search question with the most relevant answers. However sophisticated, these formulas also allow advertisers to pay for the top spot on the page, and this advertiser may not necessarily have the best health advice to give. Google puts it well on their FAQ page about health advice: “The information you see describes what usually happens with a medical condition, but doesn’t apply to everyone. This information isn’t medical advice, so make sure to contact a healthcare provider if you have a medical problem.”
A search engine is no substitute for a qualified, experienced human. As much as modern technology is to be admired, we are still a long way off finding an online health diagnosis solution that works as well as a human brain. In the meantime, whilst it is ok to ‘look up’ what you think you may have always consult with your health professional before you take any action.
If you feel embarrassed or ashamed- don’t be. Health professionals such as myself are trained to help you overcome your issue without judgment and will help guide you through your recovery step by step. Your health professional or GP can help, alongside the Chinese medicine doctors at my practice Qi Medicine (www.qimedicine.com.au) if you feel you need professional advice.
To your good health,
Dr Sheena Vaughan