A report published by the British newspaper The Guardian on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, said that a recent study revealed that using internet sources to search for headache symptoms may not be harmful at all, but may lead to aid in the diagnosis process.
In the past, a permanent impression was that searching for headache symptoms on the Google search engine is wrong for fear of reaching inaccurate results, and does not lead to positive results, but the new study went in its results to the contrary.
Using Google for Health Purposes
The use of Dr Google for health purposes is controversial. Some have expressed concerns that this could lead to an inaccurate diagnosis, wrong advice about where to get treatment (medical triage), and increased anxiety (cyberchondria).
While previous research on this topic was limited to observational studies (observational study or descriptive study) on Internet search behavior, Harvard researchers sought to conduct an empirical measurement of the association of Internet search with symptoms, medical screening and anxiety, by presenting a set of symptoms to 5,000 people in the United States and asked them to imagine that someone close to them had these symptoms.
The participants, the majority of whom were white, with an average age of 45 and divided into an equal number of genders, were asked to provide a diagnosis based on the information provided to them. They then searched the Internet for symptoms of the conditions (which ranged from mild to severe, indicating common illnesses such as viruses, heart attacks and strokes), and made the diagnosis again.
Determine the level of diagnosis
Besides diagnosing cases, participants were asked to state their level of diagnosis, which included tips such as “let the health problem improve on its own” and contact emergency services. The participants also noted their anxiety levels.
The results showed a slight increase in the accuracy of the diagnosis, as the percentage of improvement increased from 49.8% to 54% before and after the research. However, there was no difference in the accuracy of triage or anxiety, the researchers wrote in the journal JAMA Network Open.
On the other hand, about three-quarters of the participants were able to determine the severity of the condition and choose the appropriate time to seek health care. In addition, people with previous health experiences, including women, the elderly, and people with reported poorer quality of life, had better prognosis, said lead author Dr. David Levine, of Brigham and Women’s hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
In a related context, these findings suggest that medical experts and policy makers may not be warning patients to avoid the Internet when it comes to seeking health information, self-diagnosing, or locating treatment. It seems that the Internet may help patients discover the cause of what they suffer from.
Benefits of searching on the Internet
Lead author Dr. David Levine said he had not observed the often described condition of cyberchondria. That is, after searching online, people were no more anxious and did not go to emergency departments for care.
Many doctors believe that using the Internet to research a person’s symptoms is a bad idea, and this provides evidence that this is probably not true, says Levine.
“The majority of researchers did not use bad sources of information such as discussion forums or social media,” Levine added. “This in turn disproves the notion that people searching online get [bad advice] from poor sources of information.”
Marcantonio Spada, an academic psychiatrist at London South Bank University who has researched cyberchondria, said the study was well-constructed and highlighted the advantages of online research when experiencing health symptoms.