Dr Net

I’ve heard of people that self-diagnose based on information from the net, but a couple of recent incidents really made me aware of how dangerous it can be.

One friend called me up and asked me if I knew anything about a particular treatment. The treatment involved radiation, so it sounded pretty scary to her and she didn’t want to agree to it without looking into it. For reasons unclear to me, her specialist didn’t give her any background information on the treatment. Both of us found that the information on the internet was scant, limited to alternative therapy sites.

Another friend casually mentioned that she had “worked out” what was wrong with her toddler when she had a sudden screaming attack after her bath. She’d put the symptoms into Google and made a diagnosis based on what came up. It was at night and not quite urgent enough to go to Emergency, she said. But she didn’t even go to the doctor the next day.

Information on the internet is varied. Some sites are for practitioners and have disclaimers for patients. Type “cancer cure” into Google and lots of dodgy stuff comes up, including sites selling Laetrile, which is toxic. Generally if you put in a specific disease you’ll find organisations dedicated to it with good quality information. But typing in symptoms brings up a hodgepodge of different sites, and it can be hard to tell the good from the bad.

Not to mention the concern of self-diagnosis, regardless of the source. One of my friends who works as a medical receptionist told me she’s “had cancer six times”. That is, she’s thought she had it.

Of course, the increased access to information that the internet obviously provides increases the scope of this problem. Perhaps the general public needs better medical education to combat this, since something is obviously lacking in medical care. Probably access, sufficient explanations of diseases and treatments, and just plain old reassurance.