Look hard enough online for health information that seems to match your symptoms and you’ll eventually become convinced you may die. That seems to be a joke but new research states it could be bad for your health. Trying to self-diagnose is hard and the internet has no shortage of information to consider. In this conversation, the plethora of available information isn’t a good thing. According to a study conducted by Edith Cowen University, most of the time you’re searching for health information you’re steering in the wrong direction.
In their study, they tracked the 36 most commonly searched symptoms on Google and found that the first result was the correct diagnosis only 36% of the time and that the correct diagnosis was only one of the top three search results 52% of the time.
The odds are actually against you getting the accurate information you need when you’re searching for health information online. And without a proper diagnosis, you’d just be hoping to get lucky by accessing the accurate information given your ailments. What’s worse is trying to gauge when something is actionable with professional healthcare. One of the most common reasons we search for health information online is to determine if we need to see a doctor. The study found that a physician visit is only recommended 49% of the time it’s needed based on the symptoms. In fact, even when emergency care is needed, the Google searched results were only accurate in recommending a doctor’s visit 60% of the time.
It could be that our searches aren’t specific enough generally to net better results, but they’re at least good enough that researchers could identify what’s really going on and figure out it often isn’t what we’re presented with on Google. The study did find that once we have a diagnosis our search results based on that diagnosis provided highly reliable information. This suggests it’s better to leave the initial diagnosis and care to the professionals and to use online resources, if you’re inclined, for ongoing care. It makes sense if you think about how easy it is to misdiagnose. Consider that to date, 93.5% of Floridians tested for COVID-19 haven’t had it, and even at the peak, only 11% did. The symptoms from the common flu and COVID-19 are similar enough to confuse the two and most people who’ve had the flu the past few months have. It’s illustrative of how easy it is to get it wrong when we are only searching based on our understanding of the symptoms.
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