According to a research conducted by Benedict Osei Asibey et al published in 2017 via Hindawi Journal, “the Internet, despite its availability, affordability, and versatility, is used for different purposes, which also include increasing health-related purposes. The Internet is a very popular and important source of health information for both healthcare professionals and patients, as it offers the formal access to high quality, huge volume, current, and relevant healthcare information. Thus, it has become increasingly common for people to locate health information and support with the use of Internet worldwide. For instance, the Pew Internet and American Life Project in 2000 and 2009, respectively, reported that 55% and 80% of adults in the United States of America who had access to Internet used it to obtain medical or health information and support. In Europe, the Health Service Executive in 2007 reported that 18% of Irish people used Internet for health information”.
According to a Research Expert, Joseph Johnson – 51.44 percent (108.75 million internet users) of the population in Nigeria had access to the Internet daily in 2021 and vast majority of people turn to the Internet for health-related information. No doubt, the internet has assumed a very important role in the lives of many people in Nigeria, more so in the area of seeking for health information. There is therefore an urgent need to understand the risks of using the internet to self-diagnose.
However, this increasing trend has pros and cons, and one significant downside is that self-diagnosis and self-treatment based on internet findings can be hazardous to your health.
In this article, you’ll learn the potential problems of self-diagnosis and treatment, who searches for health information, how to use information safely and responsibly, and how to find reliable websites for medical information.
Before people used to get the bulk of their health information from their doctors and other healthcare providers. However, the Internet has changed everything. Now, anyone can easily access health-related information and people come to appointments armed with information. Not only is there a lot of information out there, some is credible and some is not. Even when the website itself is accurate, it’s possible for someone without medical training to misinterpret it.
Healthcare providers often worry about how you’ll use the information. Many of them say online information is best when you use it to supplement conversations with them, not as a replacement.
- Becoming overly certain: You may be convinced about a self-diagnosis and then have trouble believing a different diagnosis from your provider.
- Unreliable sources: Anyone can post online. Information may be inaccurate, misleading, or even intentionally manipulative.
- Confirmation bias: Whether you’re worried that you’re dying or certain your symptoms mean nothing, you can probably find a website out there to agree with you.
- Unnecessary scares: Some symptoms can be due to a minor, passing illness or something deadly. It’s easy to latch on to the worst-case scenario, which usually isn’t accurate.
- Unnecessary tests: You may get overly worried about a particular diagnosis and insist on tests your provider knows you don’t need, leading to wasted time and money.
- Dangerous treatments: Treating yourself can lead to serious harm from side effects, overdose, dangerous drug interactions, or taking something ill-advised due to your medical history.
A majority of Nigerian adults use the Internet for health information. That can lead to problems including unnecessary stress over an incorrect self-diagnosis, unnecessary medical tests, and self-treatments that could be harmful. Not all health information online is reliable.
Who Searches for Health Information?
A 2021 survey looked at who was most likely to search for health information online. The most common searchers are:
- College educated
- Between the ages of 25 and 60
The Digital Divide
This research spotlights the digital divide—who does and doesn’t have Internet access. Inequalities in access create obstacles to finding health information in the very people already likely to have problems accessing healthcare: those who are uninsured or under-insured, are unemployed, and have lower incomes.
People with depression were 42% more likely to look for online information. Researchers suggest that’s because the stigma surrounding mental health makes people reluctant to bring it up with their provider.2
Using Online Information Responsibly
Using health information online can be a positive thing. One study says online health information “is becoming an increasingly important component of health and disease management.”
Online health information is best used to:
- Learn more about your diagnosis than your provider has time to teach you
- Point you toward treatments you may want to discuss with your provider
- Find support from other people with the same chronic condition
You may find a lot of information online that you want to discuss with your provider. Presenting them with a huge packet of information at your appointment is unlikely to be helpful, though.
Instead, try to summarize so you can cover the information in the small amount of time you’re allotted during appointments.
Choosing Reputable Websites
Among the most important things to keep in mind is that you should only look for health information on reputable websites. A little knowledge can help you weed out the ones that are best avoided.
When possible, go to websites from:
- Government agencies, such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC)
- Respected medical centers, university medical schools, and medical organizations.
- Respected advocacy organizations
- Look for citations throughout the article and/or reference lists at the bottom of the article. If they don’t tell you where the information came from, be skeptical.
- Look for publication or update dates at the top or bottom of the article so you know you’re getting current information.
Some online information is too general, while some sites get bogged down in medical jargon. Try to find those that explain medical terminology and make the information easy to understand.
Most people look for health information online. It can lead to problems with unreliable information, self-treatment, self-diagnosis, unnecessary worry and expense.
The most common health information searchers are also those most likely to have health insurance and access to care. A digital divide further disadvantages people with poor or no health insurance and lower incomes.
Online health information can be used responsibly. Use it to better understand a professional diagnosis, learn about potential treatments to discuss with your provider, and find other people with the same condition.
Reliable websites are from government agencies, reputable medical centers, universities, professional organizations, and advocacy groups. On large health-related sites, look for dates and references.
Suggestion From OshoBaba
Information gathered from the Internet can be helpful, such as when you find information that helps you manage a chronic condition better.
It can also be detrimental, such as when someone needlessly frets over a self-diagnosis, or worse—self-treats a self-diagnosis and does themselves harm.
Your healthcare provider considers many things beyond a symptom list to reach the right diagnosis, and they prescribe treatments based on your complete medical history. Protect yourself by letting them do their job.