Paging Dr. Google!
When you’re feeling unwell, it’s tempting to turn to Dr. Google. He’s accessible, there’s no copay or wait time, and he offers instant appointments! Having a lot of anxiety about being sick is natural, we even have a name for it – illness anxiety. Unfortunately, he usually arrives with bad news… That cough you’ve had for the last two days… Dr. Google says it must be lung cancer. The diarrhea that won’t seem to go away… oh that’s definitely colon cancer. And what does Dr. Google say about that sore toe? Oh, that’s probably lung cancer too. Of course, I’m being facetious here.
But there are ways to properly use Google to take charge of your health and make the most out of your visits to the doctor. Let’s talk about some strategies and pitfalls of using Dr. Google and why it’s always important to get a second opinion from a real-life health care professional!
Steps to Combat Illness Anxiety
Don’t Do This: Google your symptoms! I know this is a tall order, but googling symptoms is just going to make that illness anxiety go through the roof! Type in cough, chest tightness, and weight loss and you’ll arrive on a search page full of lung cancer results.
Do This Instead: Make an appointment with your doctor and if you’re really worried, keep a journal about your symptoms. Each day keep track of changes, is your cough getting worse or better? How much weight are you losing each day? Are you feeling too sick to eat each day? Have you been in contact with any sick people lately? Does anything make you feel better or worse?
If You Want to Go Even Further: Get proactive with your health! Don’t wait for symptoms to start thinking about developing healthy habits. Make annual appointments with your family doctor, learn about your health insurance benefits, stay on top of essential labs like tracking your cholesterol and work with your primary doctor to setup important annual screenings. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Don’t Do This: Obsess over illnesses that run-in families. Maybe you haven’t felt well for a while. Maybe a close relative had a serious illness when they were about your age. Maybe they even passed away tragically young. Turning to Dr. Google, you then learn that they may have had XYZ disease and it runs in families! Should you panic now?! No!
Do This Instead: Make an appointment with your primary care doctor to discuss your concerns. Don’t have a primary care doctor? Now’s a great time to get one. Try to stay away from your local Urgent Care, you should be trying to establish long-term care with a physician that’s going to get to know you. After you have your appointment, talk to them about what you’re concerned about and how those concerns are impacting your life. The doctor may order further testing to help rule in or out the chances of illness.
If You Want to Go Even Further: Learn about risk factors for illnesses. For example, diabetes has a strong genetic component. Talk to your doctor, and consult legitimate sources to learn all you can. Then once you’re equipped with that knowledge you can take steps to keep yourself in good health and stay proactive. This should help reduce illness anxiety. If you’re not sure about a source of information, talk to your doctor – they can help you tell apart trustworthy and untrustworthy sources of information, they might even have some good resources of their own! Thrifty Patient is one of those good sources of information. Like our very popular articles on Major Losartan Recalls hitting the country or information about supplements like CBD, we only deliver quality information about your health.
Don’t Do This: Don’t trust miracle cures that pop up when asking Dr. Google a question. All search engines, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc use complex algorithms to direct traffic to popular and relevant content. However, what Dr. Google can’t do is tell evidence-based medicine apart from wacky theories. Abby Ohlheiser of the Washington Post recently wrote about the flood of bogus medical cures that can be found online.
Do This Instead: Empower yourself in your next discussion with your doctor by asking them how they make their treatment decisions. Most doctors will tell you that they follow evidence-based practices and keep up to date on the latest research guidelines for their specialties.
If You Want to Go Even Further: Take the evidence-based approach yourself when doing research into therapies. Then bring your evidence to your doctor. You might be surprised at how open and flexible many doctors are to try new things, especially if you can show them good research. Just remember, not all research is created equal. Click here to learn more about the Pyramid of Quality Research!
It’s important to stay on top of your health and we’re the biggest advocates of patients taking their health into their own hands. However, you need good tools if you plan on getting anywhere. Search engines like google are one of those tools that can do as much harm as good. We’d love to hear your stories about illness anxiety and if searching symptoms online helped or caused even greater illness anxiety.