A study found that searching for symptoms on the Internet can improve your ability to diagnose a disease based on its symptoms without increasing anxiety, as researchers from the United States tested the ability of 5,000 volunteers to diagnose the disease, based on a specific list of symptoms, before and after a web consultation.
According to the British newspaper “Daily Mail”, the results contradict common advice to avoid consulting “Doctor Google” before visiting a GP’s office.
Doctors fear that searching for symptoms on the Internet may raise people’s levels of anxiety, a phenomenon called “cyberchondria”.
While the new findings indicate that this may not be the case, the team cautioned that the study did not look at self-diagnosis, as people may react differently.
Researcher and physician David Levin of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said: “I have patients all the time, and the only reason for them to enter my office is because they searched Google for something,” explaining, “The Internet said they had cancer.”
Dr. Levine and colleagues conducted a study on this after noticing it, selecting a sample of 5,000 people and asked them to imagine that someone close to them had a particular series of symptoms.
The cases selected by the team ranged from mild to severe, but all were common cases including heart attacks, strokes and viral infections.
Each participant was asked to provide a diagnosis based on the information provided, before and after being allowed to search for symptoms online.
They were also tasked with choosing the level of response, from “Let the health problem get better on its own” to “Contact emergency services,” and each participant was asked to record their individual level of anxiety.
The researchers found that people were slightly better at correctly diagnosing diseases after conducting an internet search for the corresponding symptoms, however, the research did not seem to lead to a change in the participants’ levels of anxiety, nor in their ability to correctly determine the level of response.
However, the researchers cautioned that the study was limited by having participants pretend to be a person dear to them, rather than themselves. “It remains to be decided whether people will behave the same way when experiencing symptoms on their own and trying to self-diagnose.”