The internet provides a window to all sorts of health and wellness resources, but medical experts caution that there are pros and cons to searching the web for help understanding what’s going on with your body.
UCSF Fresno clinical instructor Dr. Jessica Mason, in the Community Regional Medical Center department of emergency medicine, shares that the internet can be very helpful in allowing us to be more informed about medical conditions and ask better questions of our doctors.
“It really helps people stay in touch with what’s going on with their health conditions and their bodies.” But she cautions, “When it gets to the point of self-diagnosis, then we have some potential concerns.”
Googling your symptoms can lead you down the wrong path
The problem arises when a patient comes in to the emergency department saying specifically that they have kidney pain, as an example. “You’ve narrowed it down to the exact organ but that may not be at all what’s going on with you. That’s what I’m trained to do, is to help sort that out.” She asks that rather than identifying specifics, talk about your symptoms.
Come prepared to discuss the details about any symptoms you’re experiencing. Doctors want to know where in the body a pain is and what kind of pain it is. Is it sharp or burning, or a dull aching or a throbbing? You might be asked to describe the intensity of the pain. Doctors will also ask about the timing of your symptoms and if they come and go. Be sure to mention everything that doesn’t feel right because your symptoms might be related.
Dr. Mason explains that many physicians appreciate when a patient researches what’s going on ahead of an appointment. “They’re making an effort to learn about themselves and to try to ask good questions and be a good patient. Most of the time, it lends itself to a more informed conversation.”
Looking things up online before you speak to your doctor can help you learn more about symptoms, but the internet can also lead you in directions that might be misleading. Dr. Mason gives the example of abdominal pain, “which could be a million different things.”
Here are reliable places to look up more info
She offers that looking things up after a doctor’s diagnosis can be more helpful. This allows you to learn more about your condition, treatment options or complications.
Sites that Dr. Mason recommends as more reliable and having a solid reputation for the information they offer are MedlinePlus, which pulls its information from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Finally, Dr. Mason says it helps to stay open-minded about what you find online. “Use that as a starting place to have a conversation with your doctor rather than going in and saying, ‘This is what I have.’”