7 Dangers of Self-Diagnosis and How to Avoid Them

The pandemic has taught us many hard lessons. One that stands out is the danger of medical misinformation. An example of this is when social media spread the dangerous myth that injecting disinfectant could cure COVID-19. According to Time Magazine, a spike in accidental poisonings soon followed.

Despite this cautionary tale, many people turn to the internet for medical advice. Consider the frequency of internet searches for some common health conditions in the Philippines:

Covid-19 symptoms - one search every 11 seconds

Anxiety - one search every 16 seconds

Depression - one search every 19 seconds

Dengue symptoms - one search every 35 seconds

Any of these search terms will return millions of results, with misinformation right alongside the facts. If you’re not a medical professional, relying on Dr. Google's advice can be ineffective, dangerous, and sometimes deadly.

What is self-diagnosis and why do people do it?

If you're not one of Dr. Google's patients, you may be wondering what is self-diagnosis? The American Nurse Association defines self-diagnosis as "the process of identifying medical conditions in oneself using various resources, including those found by searching the internet and social media."

Clearly, an internet search is no substitute for a medical degree. Yet we still turn to the web because it offers something most doctors don't–instant answers, 24/7. It also avoids other barriers to healthcare, such as time, cost, stigma, and inconvenience. However, the dangers of relying on online advice can't be discounted. Let's look at the common hazards of self-diagnosis and discuss some safer alternatives.

7 Dangers of Self-Diagnosis

#1. Unnecessary Stress

An estimated 1 in 5 people worry excessively about their health. When anxiety strikes, an internet search may seem like the quickest way to calm your fears. But the web will suggest many potential causes-including some worst case scenarios. This can send you further down the rabbit hole of stress and worry.

A patient uses her phone for an online consultation with a doctor.

Solution: Teleconsults. Patients are often right that something is going on in their body. But their chosen diagnosis is rarely on the mark. An online doctor can evaluate the whole patient, through an expert lens. Plus, many teleconsult platforms are on-demand, meaning you can get medical advice without the long wait.

#2. Pandemic Panic

Do you ever find yourself anxiously wondering "Does this cough mean I have COVID?" You can find thousands of COVID symptom checkers online. But ultimately, the internet can't tell you whether you have coronavirus. A COVID-19 test is needed to confirm diagnosis.

Solution: Book a swab test home service. You no longer need to speculate about symptoms. Home swab tests are widely available and deliver quick results. Many swab test home service providers offer on-demand testing at an affordable price.

A man is swabbed for COVID using a home testing service.

#3. Delayed Treatment

According to the CDC, up to 41% of patients delay healthcare for fear of exposure to COVID. Rather than seek medical care, patients turn to their computer screen for reassurance and advice. But delaying medical care can lead to serious consequences, such as worsening chronic conditions and earlier death.

Solution: Regular doctor visits and routine blood work are an essential part of staying healthy. Luckily, both services can be conducted from the safety of your home. A home service laboratory can be used to monitor key health indicators, such as blood sugar and cholesterol. Teleconsults can take place through video calls, no waiting room required.

Many blood tests can be performed at home using a home service laboratory.

#4. Over reliance on symptoms

People search their symptoms online but this isn't how disease is usually diagnosed. According to the CDC, 70% of medical decisions are based on lab test results.

A home service laboratory test may offer convenient, in-app results.

Solution: Routine blood work and lab tests. You can book a home service laboratory or consult a doctor for a lab prescription. It's important to follow up for interpretation of results with your doctor or via virtual consult.

#5. Unnecessary or dangerous treatments

Self-diagnosis can also lead to self-medicating with products that are ineffective, or have unforeseen side effects. If you're already taking medication, you could experience a dangerous drug interaction.

Unprescribed treatments can lead to serious side effects.

Solution: Teleconsults. If you're experiencing a bothersome symptom, you want fast relief. An online doctor comes without the wait of traditional clinics. They can inform you of the risks of treatment, specific to your health and medical history.

#6. Unreliable sources

You don't need any medical credentials to publish a website. The internet is full of fraudulent claims and misinformation. And even if you consult a reliable source, like the WHO or CDC, it can't replace personalized, expert care.

The pandemic has led to an uptick in the spread of health misinformation online.

Solution: Use the internet collaboratively with doctors. Patient education can help you prepare for a doctor's visit, aid communication, and be more actively involved in decision making. Meanwhile, a doctor can verify the medical information you find and put it in context.

#7. Mental health treatment avoidance

Mental illness is highly stigmatized in the Philippines, despite being the third most common disability. Roughly 6 million Filipinos suffer from an anxiety disorder and/or depression. To avoid judgment, Filipinos often avoid professional help. But if you're suffering from a mental disorder, you need more than an online quiz and a Tik-Tok "cure".

Online therapy platforms offer video chat and messaging to avoid the stigma of receiving treatment.

Solution: Online therapy. There are many online therapy platforms available, such as BetterHelp and Talkspace. These platforms vet therapists, ensuring they are licensed mental health professionals. Sessions can take place anywhere you have an internet connection, avoiding the stigma of seeking counseling. You can choose audio consults instead of meeting face to face. And your sessions and personal data are protected by law.

What is the best way to Google symptoms if you are going to do it?

Combining your research with a doctor consultation is the safest approach.

Let's preface this by saying any medical advice you find online should be validated by a medical professional. But if you do search for symptoms, experts recommend using medical terms like "abdominal pain" versus informal terms like "upset tummy." You should also seek out government, university, and established healthcare authorities. The CDC, the WHO, Mayo Clinic, and Johns Hopkins Hospital all publish information that is current and accurate. There’s no harm in educating yourself as a patient, so long as you follow up with medical advice from a doctor and lab testing as needed.