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Why you shouldn't rely on Dr. Google and self-diagnose

Google is a wonderful tool. The knowledge of the world at your fingertips. But knowledge and wisdom are two very different things – especially when it comes to trusting the advice of “Dr. Google” to self-diagnose.

Medical advice online, as with anything else, ranges from the absurd to the outdated and the deliberately misleading.

For example, there is still reams of outdated advice about how you shouldn’t eat eggs and fats, even though our understanding about how our bodies respond to dietary cholesterol and fats has changed. And there are of course piles of misinformed commentary that seeks to discredit Chiropractic. (It always shocks us when we hear these viewpoints expressed – just ask us about the piles of real and verifiable success stories we have from patients).

There are of course reputable and trustworthy sources of medical advice online – leading peer-reviewed journals and health magazines, websites from top medical institutions and the blogs of individual health-care practitioners who are respected in their field and their local community.

Nothing beats face time with a qualified expert

But nothing beats a face-to-face assessment by a real person to diagnose what ails you. If you are often advised to seek a second medical opinion when you have a troubling health concern or doubt a diagnosis, why would you trust in the Internet alone?

If you have a symptom, of course it can be helpful to look up what it may indicate. There are many symptom checker sites online. But this isn’t black and white. The same symptom, or even group of symptoms, may indicate a minor health issue (most likely), or point to the onset of a life-threatening illness (least likely).

Regardless of how reputable a possible source of information online, we always dissuade patients from turning to Dr. Google to self-diagnose. Dr. Google can’t look at you. He can’t see important signs that you may be missing. He can’t ask you random questions based on information you provide, measure your vitals, or make visual observations.

That’s what we mean by knowledge versus wisdom – the difference between reacting to a few facts or symptoms, and having the perspective to see and understand a bigger picture.

Health practitioners, whatever their discipline, learn through theory and practice to understand how the pieces fit together and how one little change can impact the whole puzzle. (This is not to say that anyone is perfect – that’s why the suggestion that you seek a second opinion if in doubt.)

If you don’t have this perspective, this expertise, you may do yourself more harm than good by relying on a self-diagnosis made online. It may lead you to ignore a symptom that does point to a health issue that requires immediate intervention. It may cause you unnecessary stress because you jump to the wrong conclusion. Or it may lead you to take a course of action that is ineffective, harmful, or both.

When should you turn to Dr. Google for advice?

We always advise patients to educate themselves on how to live better and healthier lives – how to eat better, how to exercise, how to practice better ergonomics at work and enjoy their favourite activities safely.

The challenge, again, is distinguishing good advice from bad. That’s why we are here. We can help you identify reputable sources of information.

If you do have a diagnosis, you can always build on what your health-care provider advises by doing your own research into things like risky interactions with any medication you may be taking, dietary changes it might be advisable to make, exercises you can do, etc. But take the time to be sure that the source of information is reputable. And keep your provider advised about what you are doing.

Look at the source. Is this information found on say, the website of the Canadian Pediatric Society, the Cancer Society, or the Canadian Medical Association Journal (or some U.S. equivalent) or is it coming from a celebrity dishing out advice that’s based on questionable science?

Knowledge is power, but a little knowledge can cause more harm than good. It’s always best to address any health concerns you have with the appropriate health professional. Dr. Google just isn’t wise enough yet to be trusted.

Please contact our office today if you have any questions!

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