We’ve all done it. That strangely swollen toe, tingling in the throat or a constant headache. Simply type your symptoms into the online search bar and watch the diagnoses appear. With the click of a button, innocent symptoms develop into life-threatening illnesses, or perhaps your dreaded medical dilemmas disappear, rest assured with the information on your screen.
in partnership with AXA – Global HealthcareThe Local examines the risks and rise of online self-diagnosis.
When your search goes wrong
A quick look at Reddit reveals hundreds of anecdotes from medical professionals sharing the mishaps and occasional success of online self-diagnosis.
One of the father made a scene At a hospital asking his daughter to get an MRI, only to discover that the “rash” she’s been getting was a non-life-threatening ink transfer, possibly from her clothes. There was also a woman who researched her health symptoms online and discovered she was in labor (actually!), a man who convinced himself he had gestational diabetes – a condition specific to pregnant women. Then there are the many tales of panicked people visiting their doctor, afraid and worried they might have cancer after doing some research online.
But for all the funny stories and related anecdotes, there are of course real problems and dangers in diagnosing yourself from online information.
Help me, the Internet
While doing self-diagnostics online is not new, the role of online health information and the importance of virtual healthcare has grown during the Covid-19 pandemic. People were encouraged to check for Covid symptoms at home, and to access all the information they needed via health authorities online.
At the same time, uncertainty about the virus and instructions to stay at home has left many people unable to access health care, or to avoid seeking it in person. Why take a risk when you can open the laptop and search?
The problem with this is threefold. You will either deal with your own self-diagnosis (which can be serious and do more harm than good). Or you think you’re fine, when in reality, you need medical help. The third option involves overreacting to a situation that is not as bad as you thought, causing anxiety and stress. This can also lead to “cyberchondria,” a time when Internet searches for medical information and health-related concerns become excessive.
Mental health is important for expats
For those of us who live abroad, the phenomenon of online self-diagnosis is more common. Jumping online is easier than navigating a foreign medical system, isn’t it?
One of the research’s most shocking findings was that nearly a third (28 percent) of mental health cases among people living globally were self-diagnosed.
the study The survey included 11,000 people from 11 countries and territories in Europe and Asia, with 13.5 percent of respondents being individuals living abroad. The research acknowledged the unique set of mental health challenges faced by expats remote from support networks and home comforts.
Depression and anxiety were the most common self-diagnosed problems by internet research among the non-nationals surveyed. Worryingly, only 26 percent of self-diagnosed foreigners said their condition was being treated ‘well’ or ‘very well’. That’s compared to 49 percent of those with a correctly diagnosed condition. This clearly shows the importance of talking to a medical professional about your mental health.
Overcome barriers to seeking appropriate care
Navigating a foreign medical system can be daunting and annoying, especially when you’re not feeling well. Not knowing who to call or where to go will only exacerbate certain conditions, such as anxiety, especially if you don’t speak the local language yet.
So a lack of understanding of the medical landscape of where you live is an obvious reason to resort to online self-diagnosis instead. Only about half (53 percent) of arrivals at AXA – Global Healthcare brain health index They said they knew how to access mental health help if they needed it.
“It’s concerning that many non-nationals are using the Internet for self-diagnosis, but perhaps that’s not surprising,” said Rebecca Freer, chief marketing officer at AXA – Global Healthcare. “Knowing how the local health care system works can be challenging, let alone knowing which sources of support you can trust. In contrast to these potential drawbacks to seeking help, the Internet appears to provide fast and credible sources of advice.”
While accessing health care can be one of the challenges of living abroad, the experience of life abroad in general should and can be positive. Although it’s increasingly common to research your symptoms online, don’t let the dangers of misdiagnosis or an unnecessary spiral of anxiety and fear weigh you down. Think again before consulting the Internet about your health symptoms.
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Mental health service provided by Teladoc Health
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