Diagnosing Yourself Online

Diagnosing Yourself Online

They call it Google University, and it’s become the most widely used and – oops – the most widely misused education on the planet. It is, in fact, a blessing and a curse.


The promises of open-source technology are indisputably making the world a better place. Engineers, scientists, doctors, teachers, public officials – almost every profession in the world is seeing advancements through the altruistic option offered on the Internet known for centuries as good, old fashion sharing. Scientists sharing information from continent to continent find other scientists they didn’t even know existed, who can take the information they put online and take the next amazing scientific step forward. What a blessing.


Then there’s the practice of self-diagnosis. What a fiasco that can be!


Self-diagnosis is not new. Anyone with an unexplainable ache or pain has an instinctive need to guess what is going wrong. You don’t need the Internet to imagine that heartburn is a heart attack or vice versa. 

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The Internet, however, is setting up patient after patient as would-be experts, which, of course, has two very basic problems. First is the tendency to overdo it. A small pain suddenly sounds like a fatal illness because of the power of print. People tend to believe what they read – assuming there’s an expert behind it. They tend to forget that joke: Eighty percent of statistics are made up. And seeing something in print seems to exaggerate its importance.


Self-diagnosis rarely takes into account what is known in the medical profession as differentials. That refers to the many, many overlapping symptoms that various conditions or illnesses share. Think of all the possible conditions that include a headache as a symptom! Could it be stress or a cold or a brain tumor? It could be the flu or about 500 (Ok, about 5,000) other illnesses. Maybe you have whiplash. Maybe you have an infection. Or maybe you just got bonked on the head.


The reason the Internet doesn’t account for differentials is called process. There is a process doctors use to narrow down symptoms to hone in on a diagnosis. If you just throw a dart at the wall – or just jump at a conclusion by reading a random write-up about a condition that includes one or two of your symptoms – then you have a diagnosis that has not been processed. Even though you might see a few substantial facts, you are still guessing. Doctors don’t like to guess. They narrow down options and do tests to figure out what is wrong with you. You don’t remotely follow the same process at home at three in the morning when you have a headache you can’t explain.


Headaches, bellyaches, or sharp pain in your side could be the result of thousands of ailments. Is it appendicitis or food poisoning? Is it cancer or too much Halloween candy? You can’t figure this out by reading a list of symptoms.


By looking up symptoms on the Internet, you could also conclude you have nothing to worry about when you could have something serious going on. In this case, you have let some random, extraneous write-up, even from a legitimate source, encourage you to put your worries aside and not schedule a visit to a doctor’s office. This can be a bad mistake, as well.


Speaking frankly, the Internet is also a huge marketing tool that is not restricted to accredited doctors, scientists, or experts. Any Tom, Dick, or Harry can write that you are going to go bald if you eat shellfish and post that on a professional-looking website. Think bulk mail in your mailbox. Some profit-oriented company is trying to get you to buy something. For every honest scientific pronouncement online, there is a mistruth, and the Internet is virtually mired in mistruths. Dr. Google could be an expert or a fraud, and you will not always know the difference.


A word to the wise, if you want to look up your symptoms online: Until you’ve got professional advice and actual testing to confirm it, don’t jump to conclusions. Give your doctors a little credit here. They went to school for a reason.


 Make a Call


For primary care and a proper diagnosis, call San Diego restorative pain management center, Pacific Medical Care in San Diego at 619-333-8114 for an appointment.

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