The cyberchondriac. Cyberchondia is a term that’s been coined to describe a person who self-diagnoses using the internet, and then experiences acute anxiety when confronted with the grim details of possible afflictions.
Rash? Probably lupus. Upset stomach? Stomach cancer, of course.
I’ve done it. Admit it, you’ve done it, too.
WebMD’s Symptom Checker feature is so inconclusive in its results that it’s basically useless. For example, submit “headache” and after a few more refining questions you still get a list of over 50 possible conditions that have headache as a symptom. Migraine and tension headache are at the top of the list, but then there’s stroke, meningitis and cerebral aneurysm. Yikes!
(I find it particularly ironic that WebMD has an article on its website about the dangers of using the “vast and unregulated web” to self diagnose. haha)
Trying to save money?
Health care is increasingly expensive, and new insurance plans have higher co-pays and deductibles. Is the trend to self-diagnose an attempt to save on the inflated cost of an office visit? Maybe.
I went to my doctor last year for ear pain. She sent me (I still don’t understand why) to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doc who told me the pain was probably caused by swollen tonsils due to allergies.
It cost me over $500 to be told to do nothing. I wish I could have self-diagnosed and saved my money, but I had had the pain for several weeks and felt it needed to be evaluated by a doctor.
Symptom checking apps
WebMD has a free smartphone app. I don’t like the Symptom Checker, but I do like the Pill Identifier and First Aid Essentials features.
A similar app, also for Android and iPhone, is iTriage. When I plug “headache” into its Symptom Checker it asks me if I have a fever. I answer “no” and get a list of 58 possible conditions, including 20 that are medical emergencies! Not helpful.
Features on the iTriage app that I do like are Health News Headlines and My iTriage for storing health information in Microsoft’s Health Vault.
I often get headaches, and I can tell the difference between a tension headache, a sinus headache and an eye strain headache. Everyone has a recurring ailment or ailments that they recognize and can “diagnose” and treat.
But when confronted with unfamiliar symptoms, the average person simply lacks the necessary clinical experience to interpret the symptoms and make a diagnosis within the ballpark of reality.
Rather than waste time on your smartphone searching for symptoms and conditions, use it to call a 24-hour nurse hotline or your doctor’s office.
My preference is to use decision-making flowcharts, like those used on Family Doctor.org, or in the book Take Care of Yourself, 9th Edition: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Medical Self-Care, by James Fries, MD and Donald Vickery, MD.
The flowchart style does not diagnose, but rather helps guide you as to when to seek medical care and when to home treat.