The Truth About Self-Diagnosing on the Internet

Amanda Montell
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Urban Outfitters

Let me guess: This morning you woke up with half a headache and some gas, did a little Googling, and now you're convinced you have a brain tumour. Trust me when I say I understand: You and your paranoid WebMD searches are not uncommon. "I would estimate that in a typical full day of seeing patients, about a third have searched the internet looking for answers by the time they see me," says primary care physician Dana Corriel, MD, who refers to this phenomenon as "Google University."

It makes sense why people turn to the internet at the first sign of physical discomfort. It's the same reason we love ordering our beauty products on Amazon instead of buying them in-store, or getting lunch delivered via Uber Eats instead of making it ourselves: Convenience. "Think of the steps involved in getting a proper diagnosis," says Corriel. "You spend time trying to make an appointment, accommodate your schedule for it, spend the time on travel, and this before any of the aggravating factors involved in dealing with the office visit itself." Even doctors get it: "It's sometimes just easier for a person to Google their symptom."

Physicians also understand that when you don't feel well, it's hard to hold off until you can see a professional to confirm that you're not, well, dying. "For most of the patients that I see in the ER, they are fine; they are not having a big heart attack or stroke and can go home without worry," says board-certified family physician and ER doctor Larry Burchett, MD. "The #1 thing I provide is reassurance. I suspect that this is what most people are looking for when they go online—they want to make sure they are ok."

Empathising is all well and good, but on a professional level, what do doctors really think about internet self-diagnosis? Is it helpful? Or is it just a cause of anxiety? Keep scrolling to find out the truth about self-diagnosing on the internet, according to physicians. 

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