40% of Americans Ask Dr. Google For Health Advice, But It's a Really Bad Idea

Thanks to the limitless amount of information available on the internet, self-diagnosing online has become a common practice. According to a recent poll, more than 40% of Americans say they take to the internet as often as they visit a doctor when trying to determine why they may be sick.

Because Google doesn't have a “what you're searching for is complete crap” filter, people attempting to diagnose an illness often end up relying on popular but completely unreliable sources of information. As a result, they take supplements they don't need, avoid medicine they do need, or go on unhealthy diets.

The medical community is aware of this situation, and they're entirely unimpressed, to put it mildly. Doctors, biologists, and other experts have spent the better part of two decades debunking the flawed health advice that has proliferated thanks to the internet. The problem is serious enough that government health organizations have started producing guides to help consumers avoid what's often referred to as “cyberquackery.”

When it comes to learning about health and medicine, the internet can bea valuable tool, no question. Online resources like PubMed, Columbia University's Go Ask Alice!, MedlinePlus, and various expert blogs have made accessing trustworthy information very easy.

So as long as you turn to reliable online sources, self-diagnosing is a reasonable practice, right?

No, still not even a little bit. Let's say, for example, that your stomach hurts and you go investigating WebMD to find out what might be causing the problem. The information you'll find is likely trustworthy, but what do you do with it? A stomachache could be caused by a variety of conditions, and without some kind of training, you're probably not going to be able to diagnose which one is at the root of your problem. Interestingly enough, even doctors are advised not to self-diagnose because they can misjudge their conditions, despite their expertise.

And if the experts tell each other to get a second opinion when it comes to their health, perhaps it's wise for you to do the same.

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Cameron English

I cover public health, nutrition and science education for PolicyMic. I also write critical thinking exercises for high school science textbooks. My previous work includes freelance writing and editing for Science 2.0. I've never been paid by Monsanto for my opinions, though that would be awesome.

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