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You have a throbbing headache which you just can’t shake. You pop your symptoms into Dr Google. A myriad of diagnoses come up, varying from a tension headache to a tumour! Unfortunately, self-diagnosing on the internet can sometimes cause more harm than good.

With increasing numbers of South Africans gaining internet access, Dr Marion Morkel, Chief Medical Officer at Sanlam believes more and more patients are Google-searching their symptoms before consulting a medical professional.

Other than for ease of access, people consult the internet for a second opinion, because they’re curious about health-related issues, or want clarity on a doctor’s advice. It’s free, fast and available 24/7.

But, there is conflicting data on the ratio of accurate versus inaccurate medical information online. A 2014 survey found that 9 out of 10 Wikipedia posts on popular medical topics contained inaccurate medical information when compared to evidence-based and peer-reviewed information.

Yet, data also suggests that medical professionals
confirm 41% of internet self-diagnoses.

The rise of cyberchondria

The popularity of internet-based medical research has undoubtedly increased the incidence of hypochondria, which has resulted in the coining of the variation called ‘cyberchondria’. This can be tied to over-diagnosis, increase in psychological disorders (such as anxiety), incorrect diagnosis (as those who frequently look up medical symptoms online can often magnify the severity of their symptoms once presenting to the doctor), and doctor fatigue (doctors can also become ‘hardened’ and convinced that clients quoting online references are cyberchondriac and have exaggerated symptoms).

Hypochondria can also contribute to the rapid depletion of medical fund benefits for those on medical insurance, and can mean unnecessary and expensive medical costs for others.

While cyberchondria can steer people to take action, it is essential to ensure you access medical information from a reputable site; that the information is not outdated or irrelevant geographically; and that you consult a medical professional for persisting and serious symptoms.



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