Looking up health symptoms online less harmful than thought, estudio dice

That throbbing headache just won’t go away and your mind is racing about what may be wrong. But Googling your symptoms may not be as ill-advised as previously thought.

Although some doctors often advise against turning to the internet before making the trudge up to the clinic, a new study suggests using online resources to research symptoms may not be harmful after all – and could even lead to modest improvements in diagnosis.

Using “Dr Google” for health purposes is controversial, with fears it will lead to inaccurate diagnoses, bad advice on where to seek treatment (triage), and increased anxiety (cyberchondria).

Previous research into the subject has been limited to observational studies of internet search behaviour – so researchers from Harvard sought to empirically measure the association of an internet search with diagnosis, triage, and anxiety by presenting 5,000 people in the United States with a series of symptoms and asked them to imagine someone close to them was experiencing the symptoms.

The participants – who were mostly white, with an average age of 45, and roughly included the same number of men and women – were asked to provide a diagnosis based on the given information. Entonces, they looked up their case symptoms (which ranged from mild to severe, and described common illnesses such as viruses, heart attacks and strokes) on the internet and again offered a diagnosis. Apart from diagnosing the condition, participants were also asked to select a triage level, ranging from “let the health issue get better on its own” to calling emergency services. Participants also recorded their anxiety levels.

The results showed a slight uptick in diagnosis accuracy, with an improvement of 49.8% a 54% before and after the search. sin embargo, there was no difference in triage accuracy, or anxiety, the authors escribió in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Roughly three-quarters of participants were able to identify the severity of a situation and appropriately choose when to seek care. Además, people prior health experience, including women, older adults, and those with poor reported quality of life were “hands-down” better at diagnosis, said lead author Dr David Levine, of Boston-based Brigham and Women’s hospital and Harvard medical school.

These findings suggest that medical experts and policymakers likely do not need to urge patients away from the internet when it comes to seeking health information and self-diagnosis or triage. En lugar de, using the internet likely helps patients figure out what is wrong, he added.

“We did not observe the often-touted “cyberchondria.” That is, after search, folks were not more anxious and heading to the emergency room for care. Many physicians believe that using the internet to search for one’s symptoms is a bad idea and this provides some evidence that is unlikely the case," él dijo.

“Searchers for the most part did not use poor sources of information such as chat forums or social media. This similarly refutes the idea that folks who search the internet are obtaining “bad advice” from poor data sources.”

Marcantonio Spada, an academic psychologist at London South Bank University who has researched cyberchondria, said the study was well designed, and highlighted the benefits of internet searching when confronted with health symptoms.

“The question remains as to how much internet searching is ‘enough’ to reach the goal of understanding what the health symptom is about? The absence of a ‘stop signal’ to internet searching may spell the risk for the development of cyberchondriac behaviour. Future studies should consider this key question.”

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