/ Health

Health websites – helpful or harmful?

Online health search

With GP appointments so difficult to get it’s unsurprising that medical sites are so popular. But are they a useful resource for keeping you in tip-top condition or a hypochondriac’s nightmare?

It’s that time of year when, as days get colder and nights get longer, we all start falling ill with one ailment or another.

Is that sore throat an indication that flu is about to descend or an urgent warning sign that we’re in the early stages of throat cancer?

With most doctors’ surgeries too busy to fit us in for an appointment when we need them and the internet at our fingertips, it’s no wonder we turn to the web for medical reassurance.

Don’t dismiss your GP

But is resorting to the internet a wise move? Wouldn’t it be better to dose up with an over-the-counter flu remedy and wait for that appointment to materialise? After all, your GP can give you a better diagnosis based on a private consultation than a medical website ever can.

Besides, the content on most are presented in such an impersonal, general way that whatever diagnosis they come up with is always going to be a bit of a hit and miss affair.

Then there’s that other thorny issue to consider; which health websites contain the most reliable medical information? There are so many out there, it’s hard to know whose content should be trusted, which is why we researched some of the biggest sites recently for Which? Computing magazine. We found that NHS Choices and Patient UK provided excellent medical information, with some others putting in adequate performances.

Too much of a good thing?

Still, it’s very easy to become addicted to these medical sites. I bet you’ve got friends who wouldn’t previously have given their hacking cough a second thought but now bore us with their self diagnoses.

Then there are people who research their symptoms online, click on a link to a news story about an incurable disease and convince themselves they’re going to die within the next 48 hours.

Of course, there’s a whole myriad of excuses for using these sites: you’re proactively looking after your health; you’re helping to take pressure off an under-resourced NHS; or you’re simply curious. But when does surfing for health become a problem – is checking a medical website once or twice a day something to be concerned about?

And how do medical professionals feel, knowing that their diagnosis may be challenged by a patient with only a rudimentary understanding of medicine? Perhaps a bit of medical knowledge in a patient makes their job easier and more interesting – or it could be adding more pressure that they simply don’t need.

Comments
Profile photo of past sell by
Member

As it is with all things the internet can be valuable or a disaster. For those who did not fully understand a verbal explanation it can bring a relaxed understanding.
However for others it can bring a disaster. A fellow student studying with my daughter sought help from the internet, as a result she decided to consume cotton balls for an extended period of time, this was in spite of being on a medically based course! Now she has missed the autumn term and has been in hospital for several months and the prognosis is not good.

Profile photo of Hannah Jolliffe
Member

Just read an interesting article that suggested the NHS is saving £44m a year because so many people are self diagnosing online. Apparently the NHS site gets 100 million visits a year and a study found that one third of these don’t go on to make an appointment with their GP. I guess that’s good if they’re making the right self diagnosis, but problems can still arise if something goes unchecked.

For me, GOOD health sites are certainly a useful first point of call if you’ve got a few concerns but don’t feel it’s bad enough to make an appointment. I’ve found the NHS site very reassuring if my daughter has a rash or a temperature, for example.

There are also some good services online that can put you in touch one-to-one with experts. Studies show that men typically don’t go to their GPs unless they really have to. These kind of direct contact online services can bridge the gap, especially where more sensitive issues, like mental health, are the problem. This is where the internet can really make a difference – when people are too embarrassed or scared to face the issue head-on, talking to someone remotely can act like a stepping stone to build your confidence to go to the professionals.

Profile photo of pdfisk
Member

I’ve found health websites very useful after a GP has recommended a particular operation to a family member. Examples were knee replacement, hernia repair or spine decompression. The web sites had lots of good information about what to expect, what were the chances of success, what are the likely recovery times (how long unable to drive or off work, for example) and in some cases which type of operation to choose.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

One of the biggest dangers is self-medication, especially with prescription-only drugs provided for family and friends, or bought online. Many people are taking vitamins and supplements they don’t need, encouraged by what is on websites. That’s usually harmless but the reason why prescription of drugs is entrusted to trained professionals is because these drugs can cause serious problems if factors such as other medications are ignored.

I certainly agree that good websites can be very helpful, in many circumstances.

Profile photo of richard
Member

It depends on the website and the level of understanding of the reader to the limits of any self diagnosis using a remote website.

I certainly would not act only on the information from a website.

Member
dating und flirten says:
14 August 2011

Little No,independent how away demonstrate write set development attention cut extent sense represent generation sight may moment treat fly winter gentleman flower science offer audience wide rather successful labour necessarily occur railway relevant obtain somewhat onto external strength female interest fair operation like library destroy fruit around due permanent speak yesterday save map fact record negotiation pain reference capable answer nevertheless mark so early station assembly exercise bear profit object low bus version improvement standard shout need plan organise requirement interested sort leg usual straight message world attach reality weapon difficulty sheet aim