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The pros and cons of self diagnosis on the web

Medically Approved by Dr. Edward Salko

Table of Contents

young couple spending time together while using a laptop at home.

Feeling under the weather? In the digital age, it can be very easy to turn to Dr. Google and get a fast self-diagnosis instead of making a doctor’s appointment and really finding out what is going on. But here is a question for you, is searching your symptoms online to figure out what’s wrong a good idea or risky?

Self-diagnosis using the web has both advantages and disadvantages. As with any health information source, it’s essential to assess credibility and be cautious when attempting to diagnose yourself. Let’s examine the main pros and cons of googling your symptoms to decide if you should head online or make a call to your physician.

For some people, what their personal physician advises them is the final word on their personal health. They trust that their physician knows how to care for them, and they follow their advice.  But for a growing number of Americans, self-diagnosis is now the preferred method, and the advice they’re seeking doesn’t come from a physician with an office in a medical complex. It comes from Google.

Today, an estimated 35% of U.S. adults have gone online specifically to self-diagnose after experiencing medical problems. The top searched symptoms include chest pain, headache, stomach ache and fatigue. 
Before there was the World Wide Web, the top source for finding educational materials was your local library. Another option was the county or state health department’s local office. Times have changed. Now the Internet gives anyone the ability to find online sites devoted to every health-related subject imaginable and to do their own investigations.  Today millions of consumers are using digital media to learn about their health, and they’re finding it faster and easier than ever before.
This approach has its supporters and critics, and offers both advantages and risks.


The risks seem obvious. It can be difficult for the average person to know if the medical advice they’re reading is coming from credible sources. How do you know which sites are trustworthy? How do you separate the good from the bad?  Also, without a physicians’ guidance, anyone can misinterpret what’s ailing them and look up the wrong solutions online.  On the other hand, a growing number of physicians and health care experts think arming patients with the tools to educate themselves can be a very good thing.  They’re most concerned about people who rarely give much thought to their health care OR don’t visit a doctor regularly.

In fact, a growing number of health experts are encouraging people to take an interest in their health, and yes, to do their homework. Reaching health and fitness goals, they insist, can only be obtained when people first take the time to learn more.  That includes eating right, achieving good results, about making positive changes in your life.  It starts with understanding where to find the right sources of information. Physicians can recommend websites and government agencies that provide free material related to healthy living.  But what if the search is about more than just staying fit? What if you’re worried about your blood pressure, daily fatigue, or frequent headaches? It’s possible to find 50 different web “prescriptions” for how to deal with each one.  It helps to think of your health as a lifetime learning experience. The more time you spend educating yourself, the easier it is to stay healthy.

So what are the trends in digital self-diagnosis?

The use of social media is an interesting one. People often use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to find people who share their specific health concerns or experiences. It’s become a resource for consumers and an outreach tool for health providers.  People can share personal health experiences while also asking for advice on treatments. There are plenty of mobile apps that let users track health-related information.  There are also some excellent resources for a self-diagnosis. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has Healthfinder, a website that provides resources on numerous health subjects.  The National Library of Medicine has a website called MEDLINEplus, a consumer-oriented site with information about diseases and wellness issues.

Personalabs provides you with another option. For the past 10 years, Personalabs has been providing its clients with affordable lab test results that allow people to arm themselves with the information they need about their health. Each set of results gets checked by a medical director.  Education is a critical tool today in maintaining your health. Personalabs is ready to work with you on your journey of discovery.

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