as part of our ongoing series of health columns, Julie Hirst, public health specialist for NHS Derbyshire County, including Buxton and the High Peak, talks about how the internet can be a hindrance as well as a help.
Searching online to find out more about health problems carries risks as well as benefits to patients.
According to recent research from Balance Activ, one in four women in the UK have misdiagnosed themselves online through ‘Dr Google’ – resulting in many wrongly thinking they have illnesses as serious as breast cancer, high blood pressure and asthma.
The study identified that the symptoms most likely to prompt women to consult ‘Dr Google’ were sleep problems, headaches, depression and anxiety.
In some cases ‘Dr Google’ searches also lead patients to stop taking their prescribed medication – as side effects are disproportionately listed.
It’s perfectly normal for people to be concerned about their health, and information is a good thing as long as it’s interpreted correctly. But it’s important for people to remember that although there are some really good, trusted sites such as NHS Choices and NHS Direct some information on the internet is not policed or worst-case scenarios are highlighted.
Some patients may opt not to take prescribed medication when they read about side effects online, but this could be dangerous as these can be disproportionately listed and the surgery will think the patient is taking them when they aren’t.
So even if you dread talking to your doctor, or have a problem that you think is too embarrassing to talk about, GPs would much prefer patients to communicate these concerns so they can address them head on. GPs deal with these issues every day so there is no need for patients to feel embarrassed to discuss their problems or concerns.