Benenden Health, a UK healthcare insurance agency revealed recently that for the past one year, there were over 100 million health-related Google searches being made within the country. Of which, self-diagnosis appeared to be more frequently occurred in London; comprising of 23% of all search enquiries. While mental health and sexual health are the two top-most Googled health concerns. 

The result was derived from analyzing more than 8000 unique health-related phrases and questions revolving around common medical condition and disease obtained via Google Keyword Planner. The agency believed the increased reliance on online medical advice was probably due to rising wait times at the General Practitioners’ (GP) clinics. 

The pros and cons 

Indeed, the present generation of patients is a lot more proactive as compared to their predecessor. However, their initiative does not necessarily mean they will receive better information. Last December, a team of researchers led by Dr. Afordita Marcu, Research Fellow at the University of Surrey had warned the public on the poor quality, misleading and difficult to interpret information made available online, especially those concerning women health. 

Similarly, the World Health Organization had specifically warned of the danger in believing myths rather than facts about vaccinations earlier. This is one of the major downsides in sorting after online medical advice; unless individuals follow credible sources, the likelihood of being deceived is very high. Furthermore, unless very precise terms or symptoms are mentioned during the search, otherwise, vocabularies like “nausea”, “fatigue”, “pain”, “sore” are likely to lead individuals to many possibilities. This will either result in needless anxiety or delay in getting the right treatment since the given advice was not personalized. 

Nevertheless, there are patients especially those with chronic illnesses or “invisible” conditions like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and so on, may find online support groups beneficial. As not many people understood their daily struggles, these support groups, usually exist on various social media platforms, will allow them to share their experiences, render comfort, and tips in coping with their respective symptoms. 

Hard to go out of fashion 

As such, it is hard to foresee the trend of seeking online medical advice before consulting an actual physician will go out of fashion. After all, knowledge is power. The continuous flow of up-to-date information within the internet empowers patients and potential patients with knowledge that is hard to come by every day. When used properly, it is a quick remedy to ensure a particular health problem is identified and to be treated with over-the-counter drugs. 

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Hazel Tang

A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.