The Dangers of Online Self-Diagnosis

October 01, 2018

The internet is an endless source of information and, for many of us, our first go-to for just about everything we want to know. It is also a tempting tool for medical self-diagnosis, but you should be careful.

“The wealth of medical information we have at our fingertips can be empowering, but we need to be really choosy about the sources we are using – especially when searching topics like cancer, stroke and heart attack,” says Henry Ford radiation oncologist, Sean Vance, M.D. If you can’t resist searching your symptoms online, you may find the following tips helpful:

  • Sources at the top of your search results are usually paid advertisements and may not be the best choice.
  • Begin with HenryFord.com to learn about conditions and diseases we treat, medical tests for diagnosis and treatment options.
  • Checking multiple sources is usually a wise move. Visit other trusted health care sites, such as Mayo Clinic or FamilyDoctor.org for general health information.
  • Avoid sites with community-sourced content, such as Wikipedia. The information may not come from qualified professionals or may be out of date.
  • Look for government-sponsored health resources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Consider the potential biases of the website you are visiting. Do they accept outside advertising that may influence content? Are they trying to sell you a product? View these sites with a critical lens.

The benefits of online health information

While speaking with a health care professional is always the best way to find out about your symptoms, there are times when online resources can be valuable for finding health condition information.

“Once you have a professional diagnosis, you can use trusted sites to learn more about your condition,” Dr. Vance says.

Online support groups can provide relationship-building and information-sharing opportunities. They can be an ongoing source of support from others who share your experience.

Dr. Vance cautions that no matter how reliable the source, it is never a substitute for medical advice from your doctor.

To schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or find a doctor, visit HenryFord.com/PrimaryCare or call (800) 436-7936.