Internet promoting self-medication?

Internet promoting self-medication?
Highlights

Internet promoting self-medication?, Self-medication, Dr Jaishree Saharad, Laser Clinic. However Dr Sumeet Shah, a consultant oncologist and a vocal advocate of breast cancer awareness doesn’t think the internet is a hindrance when dealing with patients.

Are you one of those people who googles lumps + cancer the moment you spot a bump on your body? Do you imagine suffering from an ailment only because you have read about it on the internet? Have you ever indulged in self-medication, or advised a family member or friend to take a particular medicine, after reading about it online? If the answer to even one of the questions is a ‘yes’, then you could be a doctor’s worst nightmare

A recent survey conducted in Hyderabad and across 26 other cities including Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru and Ahmadabad revealed that doctors have been struggling to deal with patients who use the internet to find out what ails them.

The internet has been without doubt the defining invention of our times. It governs how the world is run, bringing us news and info at breakneck speed and influences every aspect of our lives. But, is too much information a dangerous thing? Does it bring imbalance in the healthcare system where much power lies with the doctors and healthcare providers or does it hatch ill-informed patients who start challenging the ones providing the treatment?

Dr Jaishree Saharad, VP, Cosmetic Dermatology Society of India and CEO of Skinfiniti Aesthetic Skin and Laser Clinic, says, “Not everything on the internet is correct and it can get very irritating. In 2012, a national daily carried an article which was also available online which one of my patients read and applied garlic to get rid of her pimple marks. She ended up with burns and scars. So not everything online is correct.”

However Dr Sumeet Shah, a consultant oncologist and a vocal advocate of breast cancer awareness doesn’t think the internet is a hindrance when dealing with patients. He says, “Not at all. While occasionally, I come across a patient whose mind is completely filled with incorrect information read on the net; these patients are few and far between. For most patients, I believe the internet is useful.”

Not just about symptoms and diagnosis

There seems to be an impression that medical websites are just about finding info about the various symptoms and diagnosis. An analysis of ‘TheHealthSite.com’s data suggests that just about 10 per cent of the searches land up on articles about symptoms of diseases. People coming to ‘TheHealthSite.com’ search for a variety of terms including home remedies, causes of diseases, general health tips, treatment options, second opinions, to understand how tests work, alternative medicines, life after being diagnosed or treated with certain ailments and even prevention.

But are doctors afraid of a well-informed patient?

Doctors were doubled up as Gods, people who would listen to their advice and follow everything they said. But then came the internet and with information which helped create a more well-informed patient. Does this make the doctors worried about their status?

“Not really. No, I am not afraid of the informed patient. Rather, it makes my life easier,” said Dr Sumeet Shah.

The term cyberchondria was first used in 2001 and the word is a portmanteau of cyber and hypochondria. The term is used to describe ‘the unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptom logy based on review of search results and literature online’.

How to pick a good health website

• Medical terms and lingo stripped off jargon which any person can understand

• Mention of sources, research manuals, etc.

• Healthy dose of content with inputs from experts who’re qualified to comment on a particular topic.

• Qualification of the author writing a particular article

• Regular updates of articles to keep up with the latest research

• Good understanding of the audience requirements. They shouldn’t claim to have a panacea for all your health woes and aggressively sell products to do so.

A good website should allow patients to

• Do research on their problem

• Cross-check their treatment options

• Verify that what their doctor is saying makes sense

• Find the right doctor

• Get a second opinion

• They are good for doctors as well, because they allow doctors to reach out to many more patients

• They help doctors to create trust in their patients

• They help doctors to become more productive and efficient because it’s easier to talk to well-informed patients

The bottom-line: Medical websites are here to stay and it would be silly to dismiss them just because some people get agitated about their condition after reading information online.

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