Is Googling Your Symptoms Reasonable?

It’s something most of us do these days: if we feel pain somewhere and don’t know what can cause it, we start our journey to diagnosis not with visiting a doctor, but with an Ok Google. Although it may seem to be convenient, googling your symptoms can be dangerous due to two reasons. And here they are.

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Consumer Reports have conducted a survey, in which they revealed that around 65% of Americans use Google to look up their symptoms on the Internet. No surprise here – when we are worried about a strange-looking rash, asking a search engine seems to be the most natural thing to do in the modern world. Visiting a doctor takes time and money, and reading a dozen of websites full of medical advice is free and easy. But it appears that not information on the web is accurate.

Everybody lies

Most of the health-related articles found on the Internet are written by people who have no medical degree. They may be educated and know a lot about medicine, especially if they have worked in the industry for a long time, but it does not guarantee what they advise is a good approach to treatment. In some cases, a writer who has been careless enough not to check the data, which they state on the website for which they are writing, can be a source of unreliable health advice that will be replicated by other web pages.

To prevent being trapped by such resources, it is recommended that one visits only the websites run by state health centers or organizations, or reputable clinics, like Mayo Clinic, for example. The information they provide is accurate and based on latest achievements in research. Another option, to which you can resort if it turns out to be difficult to find the info you need on such websites, is reading articles that contain references to scientific journals, researches, and reports. Claims of benefit or association of something with something must be supported by evidence to which a link to a reputable source is provided. Otherwise, you run the risk of exacerbating your symptoms by following the advice stated on unreliable websites.

Screens have eyes

Another reason why googling your symptoms can be dangerous is that by doing so you provide data that is precious to advertisement companies. Third parties crave your googling records, because they can use it to target you with ads that correspond to what you have recently googled. Looked up common cold symptoms? Here is a state-of-the-art remedy for you. And it is sold at a drugstore just around the corner. Creepy, isn’t it?

It’s not only inconvenience that such data sharing causes: if you use a search engine to find out more about a disease which is rare enough to link it to you later, your medical identity can be stolen. Actually, it is unlikely to happen, but the less information you provide, the better.

Privacy issues are not limited to the ones mentioned above. Some companies store detailed information about you, including your phone number, address, and so on, so if third parties have enough data to identify you, they can sell your personal information to other agencies, which can use it for inappropriate purposes.

Extra care

One more downside of googling symptoms and diseases–which is not that bad, though–is that websites that contain articles written by non-specialists tend to recommend visiting a doctor even in cases when it is not needed. Oftentimes it is done in order to be on the safe side, as they do not want responsibility for what is written. It is not a major flaw, as consulting a doctor is unlikely to hurt, but such an approach may scare some people when you should not be afraid of a common cold.

When googling diseases, opt for websites approved by the authorities, as it increases the likelihood of information being accurate.

References:

Medical Privacy Laws, Explained – Consumerreports.org

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