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.