Self-diagnosis: valid or dangerous?
At the recently concluded #hcsmph2017, a question was asked during the Unconference: Is self-diagnosis online valid?
The question was raised in relation to mental health and answering online questionnaires to see if one is depressed. Another participant had also asked the same question, relating how a friend’s father had died of stroke because of a neglected headache. Apparently, the family members had relied on Google and delayed going to the doctor. This inspired me to have this topic for the next #HealthXPH tweet chat last April 29, even if I had previously written about Dr. Google and why self-diagnosis annoys doctors.
I first asked: As a healthcare professional or patient, how useful are online symptom checkers or screening tools?
A quick PubMed search led me to work published on Oct. 30, 2015, by Ameringen VM et al:
“51 percent sought treatment after completing the MACSCREEN. In the 49 percent who did not seek treatment, fear of medication (57 percent), discomfort talking to their doctor about anxiety (28 percent) and the belief that symptoms were not severe enough (28 percent) were cited as barriers.”
It is striking that less than half of those who met criteria for anxiety or mood disorder using the online screening tool sought treatment.
Another study looked at the accuracy of the Boots WebMD symptom checker in the self-diagnosis of ENT Symptoms by Farmer SE et al:
“Of 61 patients, the WebMD symptom checker 70 percent (n=43) included the correct diagnosis but only 16 percent (n=10) of these included the correct first diagnosis. Hence, the authors concluded that the symptom checker provided a large number of differential diagnoses which may be inappropriate. The symptom checker completely missed the correct diagnosis in 30 percent (n=18).”
Here’s my second question: How can healthcare professionals support patients when they search online for health information?
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