Self-Diagnosis Using The Internet

Information can be the difference between being a victim and getting the medical care you need. Most guides to avoid the trap of becoming a medical malpractice victim focus on the importance of asking questions and gathering information before agreeing to any medical procedure. To that end, many people turn to the Internet when they get sick or suffer an unidentified physical ailment. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, roughly 33 percent of Americans used a search engine or medical website to learn more about their symptoms before they went to the doctor. But how reliable was the information they found?

Several websites were recommended by medical experts when questioned about online medical advice. Among the websites that earned approval were the Medline Plus site (www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus) sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site (www.cdc.gov) and the American Academy of Pediatrics website (www.HealthyChildren.org). The sites were praised for their ease of use, the quality of the information found, and the breadth of information on symptoms, drugs, treatments, diseases, supplements and other health care topics.

Medical errors are a massive problem in the United States. The Internet is a powerful tool for educating and empowering patients. Patient safety and the quality of health care in this country benefit from people who take the time to research their condition and their options before submitting to treatment. An Internet search cannot replace a visit to a medical professional, but it can help you understand what questions you need to ask to ensure that the care you receive is appropriate.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “How to find the best medical information online,” by Deborah Netburn, 17 January 2013