Online self-treatment — the dark side of the internetHelena Bogdanova
The Internet is continuing to penetrate far into all the life spheres, and a healthcare field is not an exception. As healthcare information solutions experts, we are concerned about the fact that people trust the World Wide Web too blindly. So, why do we usually prefer the Internet advice in terms of our health rather than professional opinion? It seems that almost all the information we need is kept in the global digital storage. Finding the book you need, ordering food or calling an uber — all this can be done online in one click.
Easy and quick access to the information, ability to solve different kinds of problems and almost omniscient presence create the almighty image of the Internet. It seems that anything can be done through the web, but is it wise to use the Internet in solving more complex issues? The practice shows that the power of cyberspace is often overestimated, and if the case is serious there is nothing you can do but to consult qualified doctors, lawyers and other specialists in the flesh.
People who surf the Internet for medical advice may be unaware of the disappointing statistics. The group of British scientists has conducted studies and checked the reliability of medical websites found by the means of a search engine. They "asked" one famous search engine 5 questions on popular pediatric issues. The results spoke for themselves: 39% of the 500 sites inspected gave the correct information, 11% gave false advice and 49% failed to answer at all. You may watch this comic video to learn more about how a search engine treats our search requests.
Why you shouldn't entrust the Internet with making a diagnosis:
1. Large amount of contradictory information
Lack of time, too expensive, scary — these are the thoughts that stop us from visiting the doctor. The Internet is vice versa free, accessible and is always at your fingertips. All you need is just to enter your symptoms in the search bar and browse the results. And here the main problem emerges: each your search request can get hundreds of contradictory answers. The same symptoms very often match a bunch of diagnoses. To add more, different viewpoints on one and the same medical issue may contradict each other (e.g. homeopathy vs. vaccination). A person without professional education in a medical field is unlikely to link the symptoms to the right diagnosis, not to mention that diagnostic procedures involve different medical tests.
2. A crowd of coach-based experts
The paramount importance of social networks results in the tendency to trust the choice of other people from the community. It’s shocking enough that people without professional skills still find themselves competent to give advice on medical issues, while the right and adequate recommendation would be to apply to a clinic. Unfortunately, the members of social networks often believe online fake doctors without giving a thought to the possible consequences.
3. Commercial charlatans
The cyberspace is flooded with false commercial information about non-traditional treatment methods and different medications. The problem is that some of the meds sold through the Internet turn out to be placebos like most homeopathic remedies do. Sometimes these medications can be even harmful, as well as fake popular pharmaceuticals sold by doubtful unlicensed sellers.
The consequences of self-treatment through the Internet
Browsing through horrible diseases that seem to match your symptoms can be shocking. You might get scared to death thinking that you have a serious health condition, while actually the issue is not grave. It's better to give some rest to your nerves and stop browsing through sites where unreliable users share contradictory pieces of advice.
2. Neglected diseases
It's important to make a diagnosis as soon as possible, so that the doctors could start life-saving treatment. Very often you waste your time trying to find the solution to some little problem online and might end up with a bigger one later. Diseases in their serious forms are more difficult to cure than when they've been diagnosed in time.
3. Fatal diseases
We never know the value of water till the well is dry. Health is a big treasure and a key to happiness and longevity. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't appreciate what they have and realize it only when it's already too late. So, is there any use in surfing the Net wasting your time, nerves and sometimes even a chance to survive?!
The relations between a user and the Internet are quite unilateral. The judgements we get from the search engines affect our lives through changing our mindset and redirecting a train of thought. At the same time, we can hardly improve the accuracy of information in the web. The situation is compounded by the fact that a web-surfer doesn't have any protection against false recommendations which can cause irreparable damage.
Being custom medical solutions developers, we have our own idea of how to fight self-treatment through the Internet:
• Increasing accountability at the legislative level for providing false medical information in the Internet. Giving medical advice and consulting online without having a license should be strictly regulated, so that coach-based experts should think twice before recommending something on complex medical issues.
• Automatic censorship mechanisms for detecting websites that contradict basic medical principles. AI, linguistic analyses and self-trained neural networks are capable of determining information of a certain kind with high degree of accuracy. After the contradictory data is found, the supervisory authorities will be able to make the authors delete it or mark as potentially harmful.
• Cooperation with social networks and search engines. Social media and search platforms should allow public organizations and the Ministry of Health free placing of advertising banners with calls like: "Still googling a cure for flu? Better go and see your doctor!". This will surely stop quite a few users from wasting their time surfing the Web in search of a possible cure.