By Rod Moser, PA, PhD
More and more people are turning to the Internet to get information about their health problems. Recent studies have shown that 80% are doing their own research prior to seeking formal care. If they just used medical sites, perhaps things would be better, but many legitimate-looking sites on the Internet are pure quackery. Many homeopathic and “natural sites” promote pseudo-science and theories that are not medically sound. This contributes to even more confusion, worry, and delays in proper diagnosis and management.
People who do not have insurance or have limited resources can worry themselves into bankruptcy investigating medical concerns that may not seem logical or valid to a concerned clinician. Guidance in the confusing world of medicine is important.
If medicine was easy, everyone would be doing it themselves. That is not to say that some people have not accurately diagnosed themselves using online resources, because they have, but just as many, if not more, are travelling down incorrect pathways.
Some people are just natural worriers. They feel a lump and immediately think “cancer”. They have a headache and start thinking they have a brain tumor. Soon, they are putting “brain tumor” in their search engines and getting a long list of signs and symptoms. The more they make a match with their own symptoms, the more they worry and become anxious. They are not hypochondriacs, they are CYBERchondriacs.
A person can easily over-read and over-research frightening symptoms. If all bad headaches were aneurysms or brain tumors, we would all be in trouble. Medical providers are trained to weed through superfluous symptoms and get to the bottom of the problem. Those with little or no formal medical training may get lost in the complexity of medical science.
Cyberchondriacs can work themselves into a mad frenzy. They post online and may be given advice by God-knows-who. Just because someone’s grandmother had a bad headache and ended up having a brain aneurysm in no way implies that the healthy 19-year-old girl with a tension headache will also have a deadly aneurysm, too.
The dance of self-diagnosis leads the worried-well to seek medical care. When you approach a primary care clinician and share your fears that you think have a brain tumor and demand an MRI today, they may just roll their eyes at the request. Any efforts to alleviate the patient’s fears or concerns, short of an MRI, referral to a neurosurgeon, a thorough examination, and battery of (unnecessary) laboratory tests will probably be in vain. You leave frustrated and go doctor-shopping.
Medical providers have enough problems ordering unnecessary medical tests as a malpractice-proofing effort, but when a patient presents with a pre-determined diagnosis – one that is deeply embedded in their own anxious minds – over-testing is a certainty.
It is important to share all of your concerns, even the ones that may seem silly to you. Encourage your medical provider to be more understanding; more of a mutual partner in your care. They must never discount your concerns, but it is important for you to trust in their expertise and judgment if your fears are medically unfounded.