When we feel unwell, many of us turn to the internet to look up our symptoms before visiting a doctor. Whether it’s a small rash that has appeared out of nowhere, an upset stomach or symptoms of the flu, we’ve all turned, at one point or another, to the weird and wonderful world of the internet to self-diagnose our problems. In fact, one in four self-diagnose on the internet instead of visiting a doctor. The internet is an extremely useful tool and can provide us with a wealth of health advice and information, as well as connect us with other people who may have suffered or be suffering with the same symptoms.

Reliable medical websites that are accurate and up-to-date can help you to research your medical conditions, understand treatment plans and assist you in making educated decisions about what steps to take next. However, not all of the information that you find online is accurate, unbiased and tailored to your personal needs. There are many websites that focus solely on selling their products and services, and therefore dangerous misinformation can circulate easily.

So, is online medical advice a valuable and useful resource, or are we taking risks and damaging our health by using the internet to self-diagnose our conditions? Below, we take a look at the pros and cons of seeking medical advice online.

The pros of using the internet for medical advice

Help you identify and understand a medical condition

Going to the doctors is, for many people, a time-consuming process. From travelling to your closest clinic (which can leave you stuck in traffic and spending extra money on petrol) to waiting to be seen by a doctor, many of us struggle to find the time to dedicate to a trip to the doctors. A simple search on the internet, however, takes just a few seconds. If you do not require urgent medical attention, seeking medical advice online can be very helpful.

Reliable health websites can help you to identify medical conditions and understand them in more detail, as well as offer treatment advice. In addition to this, information that you find the internet can both confirm and expand on the information that your doctor has already provided you with. In many cases, face-to-face consultations are time-limited and lots of information can be difficult to digest at once. Plus, you may have some questions that you did not think to ask during your consultation. Seeking medical advice online in this situation can be very helpful.

Provide emotional support

If you have been diagnosed with a condition or a chronic illness by a health professional, online health forums can be a great source of comfort and support. In online health forums, you can discuss your issues and health conditions with others, which can be extremely helpful and help you cope better with symptoms.

Many people may feel that their friends and family do not understand their daily struggle, particularly if they suffer with an “invisible” condition, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, which do not involve very obvious physical symptoms. Speaking to people who suffer with the same issue can provide reassurance and comfort.

Pregnant women can find helpful guides online that break down the different stages of pregnancy and inform them what to expect, as well as offer general pregnancy advice. This is something that can be particularly helpful for women who are pregnant for the first time and do not know what to expect.

The cons of using the internet for medical advice

Health websites are not always credible

As discussed above, the internet can be an extremely useful tool when it comes to seeking general medical advice online, however, it’s important to remember that not all websites are credible or reliable. Even if a health website looks legitimate, it does not necessarily mean that the advice has been provided by someone who is qualified to do so. Some websites appear to be trustworthy and authentic, however, in reality, they are run by people with no medical credentials. This is why it is always important that you double check the source of the information and their credibility.

Advice from a GP or online doctor is personalised

Researching your symptoms online can pull up helpful advice and information, however, advice is never directly tailored to you and your specific condition. When you visit a GP or have a professional online medical consultation, doctors will base your diagnosis on your specific symptoms, individual medical history, your current medications or supplements and your lifestyle – something that an online article simply cannot do.

No online health website can replicate the skill of a doctor, and no advice offered to you online will be tailored specifically to you as an individual. This is why it is always recommended that you visit a doctor rather than self-diagnose. A doctor can perform clinical examinations and tests and physically examine you. From these tests, doctors can base your diagnosis on their objective clinical findings, such as information from x-rays and MRI scans.

While online information can be helpful and guide you on what could possibly be wrong, you should always wait to be diagnosed by a professional before you begin taking medication or supplements.

Online health research can lead to an inaccurate self-diagnosis

We’ve all been there: you’re suffering a few symptoms, so you type them into Google and, all of a sudden, it’s telling you the worst possible outcome. Using an online symptom checker or relying on health websites to find out the root of your problem can lead to inaccurate self-diagnosis, which can result in increased anxiety, stress and fear. Heightened anxiety can exacerbate your symptoms and lead to other symptoms, which can leave you feeling worse.

If you do search the internet for your problems and your symptoms align with a serious condition, you should always visit your doctor instead of self-diagnosing. It’s always easy to assume the worst when you turn to the internet to check your symptoms and this can often lead to unnecessary anxiety and stress.

Duality Health: online doctor consultations and private healthcare in Newry and Dungannon

At Duality Health, our experienced team of GP’s and Nurse Practitioners are on hand to help you with your medical needs. We understand that researching your problems can leave you fearing the worst, which is why we always recommend that you pop in to see one of our highly-trained health professionals at our private medical centre, or book an online doctor consultation through us. From investigations to general check-ups, we provide excellent health care through our well equipped and professional private clinics.

Our range of services include travel clinic services, blood and allergy testing, minor surgery and joint injections, sexual health services, family planning and women’s health. We provide appointments in the evenings and weekends, ensuring that you are able to see a GP when you need to see one – not just when an appointment is available. This is ideal for those who have busy schedules and struggle to visit the doctors on a weekday. Instead of searching your issues online and causing yourself unnecessary anxiety, simply book an appointment with us today.

For more information about our services, visit our website.