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Don’t be a Cyberchondriac

CyberchondriacFEATURE

The internet is a beautiful thing – access to virtually all the information in the world right there at your fingertips. Although this is convenient most of the time, when it comes to subjects such as your health, it can stir up some trouble. Nutrition advice isn’t much better either, now that companies selling diet fads have their hooks in all the marketing tech-whiz mumbo-jumbo and may be masquerading as genuine health and fitness content. How many times have you seen one of those little ads saying “Doctors hate her – so-and-so CURED their miscellaneous ailment just by eating this ONE superfood”? I’d bank on the fact that whatever those ads link to doesn’t have the most trustworthy information.

So, how do you find good, accurate advice about your health? Hopefully, we can help with that right now – and we promise we won’t try to sell you a $60 bottle of snake oil pills.

Beat your basic instinct to play ‘Google Doctor’

These days, most people’s first instinct is to ‘Google first, question sources later’ whenever they’re seeking information about anything, from local restaurants to localised abdominal pain. When it comes to something as important as medical health, however, the wealth of information available online can be something of a double-edged sword. There’s a reason they’re not just passing out medical doctorates on street corners – without the proper training, you could end up interpreting a simple cold as full-blown pneumonia. They call this kind of jumping-to-conclusions ‘cyberchondria’ and it’s a practice that’s best avoided because it can make you stressed and anxious, which is bad for your mental health.

The fact of the matter is that the only people truly qualified to diagnose you with a specific medical condition and give you medical advice are (surprise) qualified medical doctors and other health professionals such as surgeons, obstetricians, physiotherapists, dieticians, dentists and registered nurses. The internet should only ever be used to add to the medical information you receive from a professional, rather than replace it.

For example, you might like to research alternative remedies after you’ve already received a diagnosis from your GP (turns out that nasty iodine gargle for sore throats can be switched out for warm salt water). Your phsyiotherapist may have recommended a number of of stretches for you to do, so you may watch some video tutorials to perfect your form. Many websites also offer useful tools such as target heart rate calculators and online eye tests for macular degeneration.

Getting good advice

If you do venture online to get information about any medical conditions, it is absolutely vital that you’re looking at material provided by a recognised health organisation. If in doubt, scroll right down to the bottom of the page and take a look at the website’s footnote, such as this one from the bottom of HealthDirect.gov.au, and you should be able to get a good idea about the website’s legitimacy:

 

healthdirectfootnote

Anything backed by the government is great, but there’s also something called the HONcode which you can look out for on non-government pages. ‘HONcode’ may seems like it’s short for ‘honour’, but it actually stands for the Health on the Net Foundation. They’re a not-for-profit organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland who has become one of the most respected portals for medical information online. The Health on the Net Foundation sets out a Code of Conduct for health and medical websites, and websites which are compliant are allowed to display the HONCode seal on their pages, which looks like this:

honcodesealexample

The HONCode seal isn’t the only way to identify reliable advice – there are a lot of credible sites which don’t have it but they can still be trusted. You should always take a look at the website’s ‘About Us’ page to get a better idea of who’s giving you this information. If you are in any doubt about any advice you should consult your GP.

Bookmark it

We’ve put together a list of some Australian websites which fit the criteria above that you may want to have handy for next time you’re feeling ill or looking to start a new health kick.

Did we miss any? If you have a health website you swear by, tell us about it in the comments.

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4 comments

  1. Bill Alexander says:

    Being a Greek, I recognise many medical names. I tend to keep away from Google search to find out more about my symptoms. My first port of call is my GP. It’s too easy to get yourself into a state of anxiety by relying on internet diagnoses.

  2. Jason says:

    There was a time when I would 100% agree with everything in this article. I would diligently follow what the ‘expert’ professionals advised me, and relegated any alternative advice to the quack basket. However after suffering from a non lethal condition for over 10 years, visiting over 30 specialists, I decided to follow alternative advice and my symptoms were relieved within two weeks. What this article fails to do, is recognise that qualified medical doctors and other health professionals may be doing you more damage than good. Take the advice of the eatforhealth website linked here, the dietary guidelines here recommend eggs. There is substantial evidence that eggs are very unhealthy for you. Now I’m not saying to follow any advice on the internet. But search extensively, confirm any advice by going to a variety of unrelated websites, forums and video’s. But more importantly, any advice you get from so called ‘qualified medical doctor or health professional’ such as a GP needs to be confirmed.

  3. Ivan Colledge says:

    I agree with Jason, as sadly many doctors have vested interests in that they are swayed by pharmaceutical companies’ medications sales targets. Many natural remedies actually work. The ideal thing is to find a GP who practises both conventional and naturpathic medicines.

  4. Lindy says:

    I echo Jason’s comment – Doctors don’t always have time to be thorough in their consultations which is why we need to be diligent cyberchondriacs. Three years ago my mother-in-law came to live with us because she had Stage 5 Alzheimer’s. When she came to live with us she was on 26 tablets a day – all prescribed by her doctors and specialists. I googled all the medication she was on and was horrified to learn that some of the tablets were linked to memory loss, others were only supposed to be taken short term (and she’d been on them 10+ years) and several tablets were conflicting medication. I took her to our family doctor – who agreed that my mother-in-law was chronically over-medicated. Together we cut out and cut back her medication until she was tablet free. These days she is only taking Panadol when needed. While she still has Alzheimer’s, she no longer has any of the other chronic health conditions she had when she came to live with us. I believe many of her previous health problems were due to the concoction of medication she was on – health issues like renal failure, digestion issues, itchy skin, vomiting, foggy memory etc. Label me a cyberchondriac if you wish. However if I hadn’t researched her symtoms, researched the side effects of the medications she was on – and challenged her “health professionals” – I believe she’d be on dialysis or dead by now.

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