The Era of Medical Misinformation

The Era of Medical Misinformation

What happens when you google your symptoms!

Searching for grocery nearby? Looking out for an address in the city? Google has everything covered for you in the world. Google has attained an omniscient status in our lives, answering all our queries in 0.3 seconds.

In events of health concerns hitting us now and then, relying on the information circulating on Google is now a subject of debate in the medical fraternity. The blog sheds light on the googling effect and medical world's worry.

Dr. Google for everything

Google is an endless reservoir of articles ranging from solutions for recurring flu to stomach aches. People are now googling their symptoms rather than fixing an appointment with a real, living medical professional for correct diagnosis and timely treatment.

Online searches direct patients towards a few common diagnoses- cancer, stroke, dietary intolerance and pregnancy where claims made lack medical or clinical evidences; generating fake news. Celebrity diets, their ‘medical opinion’ is insanely followed by teenagers; without understanding the absence of evidence attached to it. 

Physicians regularly encounter patients hesitant to take potentially lifesaving medications or adhere to other prescribed treatments because of something they read online, heard from friends, or saw on television.

A survey in 2018 reported that 41.3% of Indian respondents used search engines to research their health concerns at least once a week. While searching on health, exercise and fitness (49.7%) followed by food or nutrition (43.6%) dominated the queries.

Medical fraternity’s concern

Medical fraternity, realising the threat being caused due to wave of misinformation have now started to express their concerns publicly.

Indian Medical Association (IMA) had expressed its concern in 2018 regarding the circulation of such news and urged the government and social media platforms to take accountability and steps to regulate the content.

Study in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine said that, 'The majority of patients used symptoms as the basis of their pre-ED (Emergency Department) presentation internet search. When patients did search for specific diagnoses, only a minority searched for the diagnosis they eventually received. The correlation between Google-searched diagnosis and ED diagnosis was poor. One explanation is patients accessing misinformation on the internet; however, patients’ limited medical knowledge and hypersensitivity to dangerous or deadly diagnoses (for example, heart attack, cancer) may drive this poor correlation.'

American Heart Association (AHA) recently released editorials from cardiology-related scientific journals that 'sound the alarm that human lives are at stake' because of medical misinformation being spread about medications giving side-effects to patients.

Endless examples 

There are no dearth of examples of medical misinformation that have recently stalled various public health movements and given birth to myths that are irrational and lack clinical/medical evidence.

Here are some examples that have attracted human eye in an instant:

- ‘Statins cause muscle damage and hurt your heart’, ‘Statins causes dementia.'

- ‘Vaccines cause autism in children’

- 'Ploy to make men infertile' rumours stall vaccination drive’

- ‘Anti-vaccine movement in swing’

- ‘Coffee – potential carcinogen’

- ‘Natural herbal extracts, when injected into the prostate, eliminate cancerous cells and returning the gland to normal.’

An advice to remember

The habit of self-diagnosis using web is now termed as ‘cyberchondria’; explained by New York State Psychiatric as ‘searching the web excessively for health care information.’

Dr Jaipal Jadwani, general physician and cardiologist from Mumbai remarks, ‘A Google consultation is okay after you have seen your doctor. Once your diagnosis has been established or a problem has been identified, then you can go online for further information.’

Dr. Rao, Obstetrician from Mumbai advises that patients shouldn’t wait days or week to seek medical help when experiencing unnatural symptoms. Timely diagnosis leads to fruitful treatment of the patient.

Conclusion: ‘Trust your doctor; they know what is right for you’

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About Author
Sabhyata Sharma
Sabhyata Sharma is Sr. Associate at Plexus MD and is a part of the Editorial team. She has attained her Masters degree in Biotechnology from Amity University, Noida. An avid fan of reading, she likes to explore the uncharted territory or hopping towards a cafe for some sanity.
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