WebMD | Turning the Everyday Citizen into a HealthCare Professional

When was the last time you visited the Online Doctor? A month ago, six months ago, maybe a year? Well, for me it was just this past week and unfortunately it informed me that I have stomach cancer. I went on WebMD and typed in my symptoms and there it was, stomach cancer.

In all truthfulness it turned out to be indigestion, but how was I to know?

I don’t know if you are aware but the online phenomena that is WebMD has people turning into “self do-er’s” when it comes to their own health. They search the internet’s medical websites trying to determine the cause of their runny nose, cough, or other illnesses. The information in most cases doesn’t alleviate their feelings of concern. As information begins to enter their screen, a worried state ensues as serious conditions begin to match their symptoms. A deeper concentration follows as users figure out what treatment and medication is available to cure them. Concern transforms to intense panic as the user comes across the dreaded word “cancer”. They start to determine their options and how to get to the doctor immediately.

STOP! Just stop…

Why can’t it be that it is just a common cold or the flu even? Simple yet non-life threatening conditions that reside, in most cases, in about a week. Why does it have to be worst case scenario when you consult medical information online? Why does a cold and cough become a potentially fatal lung condition like Tuberculosis? Why are our fears always worst than reality? I for one cannot really explain, maybe people just worry too much. WebMD and other sites like it are supposed to be educational tools for individuals to access when they have questions about their health. Its intended design wasn’t to provide medical information so that people can diagnose themselves before even seeing a doctor.

What is WebMD?

WebMD and the various other related sites are online resources whereby users can access various types of information pertaining to health issues. These websites enable the user to research health conditions, learn about good health practices, read expert commentaries, and discover a variety of health services available.  These sites are educational tools to aid in the learning of their health and the topic of health in general.

These outlets and more specifically WebMD offer other intriguing functions as well. They allow users to access their websites remotely using applications that are downloadable on Apple and android devices. Coincidentally, a study conducted in the United States found that 52% of smartphone users access health information this way. They also have cold and flu zone checkers where users are able to type in their state or province to determine if their area is experiencing a high sickness level. Other abilities include symptom checkers, air quality indexes, and various other educational operations.

How Does it Work?

As I already mentioned WebMD has a multitude of functions that people can interact with. However, the main one is their symptom checker. This program uses various question filters that ask you about your symptoms and the areas in which they occur in your body. These questions aim to provide the user with an accurate diagnosis but they rarely ever do.

In my recent online consultation for a persistent stomach ache, the program offered relatively no assistance. The program took me through a series of steps and ultimately turned out a list of approximately twenty different conditions that I may have (each varying with likelihood). But twenty, seriously?  The information I received only made me more anxious and made the actual cause more ambiguous to me. An hour spent researching my symptoms that eventually lead to no more knowledge than I had previously, just more concern.

So, Why Do We Do It?

Have you ever had someone say to you that they have some extremely complex medical condition and when you ask them how they found out they said “well I did an internet search”. A statement to which you quickly reply “Well did you see a doctor?” and it is at that point your met with the reply “No, but I have all the same symptoms so I’m pretty sure that’s what I have”.

Idiot…

In this day and age the accessibility of information via the internet has turned people into narcissistic, self-proclaimed “know-it-alls”. Humans are able to Google search almost any topic they wish to know about and find relevant information about it. In all honesty this would sound like a good thing, right?

Well it depends on how you look at it. When someone reads something on the Internet, do you think they ever analyze the information they are reading? When they read the latest headlines on the internet do they ever scrutinize the information’s reliability or validity? Probably not. Most would simply take the information at face value and assume that what they’re reading is true.

Effective diagnosis’, probably not.

This notion translates to when people use medical websites as more than educational tools. The information they receive via WebMD is rarely validated or examined, even though these online consultations can produce hundreds of conditions that resemble your symptoms. So do people actually believe they can decipher what condition they have? Or is it because they are too lazy to go to the doctor? I mean c’mon people, healthcare in Canada is free. This is a privilege that a lot of countries do not have. Yes, the waits are excruciatingly painful, but suck it up. It makes no sense to inflict unnecessary panic by thinking you have something you really don’t have. We all have enough stress in our lives, leave the diagnosing to the people who do it for a living.

What It Is Meant For

WebMD in its fullest extent should be used to help individuals learn about the health conditions they already have or to just gain knowledge about the topic in general. A place where research happens. Nonsensical diagnoses should not be a product of using this website.

This is definitely a habit that affects the younger generation more so than older generations. Elder generations will simply pick up the phone and call the doctor if something is wrong with their bodies. Younger generations however will pick a laptop up and start playing real life doctor via the internet. An adage that is comedic, yet truthful.

Younger generations pride themselves on knowing as much as they can and most of it comes in forms such as the WebMD problem. This older gentleman has a pretty blunt, yet humorous opinion that agrees with this notion!

Stop the Pandemonium!

In all seriousness, if you think your really sick then talk to your healthcare professional. Your physicians and doctors have endured many years of schooling in order possess the knowledge required to properly diagnose you. So, when I say talk to your healthcare professional, professional is a word I cannot stress enough. You are not a doctor!

With that being said, WebMD and other related sites can be productive and positive tools when used in the right manner. For individuals who want to expand their medical knowledge, they present a very good resource. They just aren’t designed so that you can become your own medical professional.

If you’ve never been to these websites, have a look:

WebMD, Mayo Clinic, FamilyDoctor

Here is quite a comedic example of those who use the internet to try to determine their condition. Check it out!

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