Dangers of Self-Diagnosis

Image CaptionAs health information becomes ever more accessible, more patients are going online to seek medical advice than ever.

But Dr. Robert Hart, Ochsner’s Regional Medical Director in Baton Rouge, said there are risks associated with turning to the internet for answers.

“Nowadays, younger patients especially are pretty quick to go online and look up something to see what it may be,” Hart said. “Unfortunately, the problem with that is there are several things that can present with very similar symptoms, which can be misleading.”

Doctors undergo years of training to help them understand the difference between a sore throat and strep throat, for example, while a patient reading an article online can easily mistake one for the other.

It is also very hard to look at health issues objectively if you or your loved ones are in pain or any kind of discomfort. As soon as emotions become a factor, patients become much more likely to jump to the worst-case scenario, no matter what the symptom, Hart said.

“A physician who has years of experience with these same symptoms can take a more objective approach,” said Hart. “Patients using the internet run the risk of over-diagnosing.”

Hart said it is also deceptively easy to go from a trusted medical advice website like WebMD to a completely untrustworthy site that may be selling a particular product or treatment.

“You could end up on a site that you don’t know where the data is coming from,” he said.  “The unfortunate thing is you can go to a link and end up on a site that is not very scientifically based at all.”

Concerned patients, especially new mothers, should call their doctor when looking for medical answers, Hart said.

“Call the office and ask a question,” he said.  “These are questions that your doctor’s office has heard over and over, and they know the answers.  It can save you a lot of trouble in the end.”

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