Digital Health

Google disease symptoms? Rather don't!

The internet isn't that old, but there are web wisdoms that feel like they've been around forever. One of them: "You're never as honest with anyone as you are with your Google search bar." That's been clear for many years. We're especially honest when it comes to health questions. However, precisely there, the online-acquired "knowledge" can be a double-edged sword. Why? Let our columnist Markus Sekulla explain.

True story: A beautiful summer day is coming to an end. Admittedly, maybe I got a bit too much sun. Upon closer self-examination, I'm feeling quite dizzy, and my skin is as red as can be. Since I don't want to appear foolish, I naturally don't ask my girlfriend for her opinion. Instead, I grab my phone and quickly Google what makes a sunstroke. After a few minutes it dawns on me that the headaches might also come from something much worse ...

Dr. Google can help, but the dose makes the poison

There are many high-quality health websites on the web, which could show me how to treat my sunburn best. But as soon as I checked the third website to understand what my symptoms could mean, I realized that there might be a problem. Often, we inform ourselves so comprehensively that we only end up going to the doctor for a second opinion. As a part-time hypochondriac, I can sing a song about it.

Let’s not forget: For some players out there health information is a business model. My subjective assessment is that on the internet, you'll find more unreliable sources than high-quality ones. The websites designed to make money are diverse, well-made, conspicuously copied from one another, and suspiciously filled with advertisements for quick weight loss methods. It might be that the copied or translated content from English by students (today, ChatGPT) contains some truths, but the focus on more website clicks and heavy advertising quickly makes these portals seem unreliable.

Dr. Google can be bad for our mental health

A few years ago, when our teacher said in a VHS course on "Giving Presentations," "You mustn't stutter under any circumstances," I wasn't even aware that there was a possibility of stuttering. But after he intentionally threw that mental anchor into my already existing mental chaos, the possibility of stuttering suddenly seemed real and surprisingly likely.

It's the same with illnesses and Dr. Google. Those who consult Google when feeling unwell or having minor ailments will be surprised at how many life-threatening illnesses can hide behind seemingly innocuous symptoms like stomachaches. Many studies show that just hearing about a dangerous illness can create fear and harm mental health.

By the way, more and more people are consulting ChatGPT and other Health AIs for answers before seeking a second opinion from their general practitioner. My advice here: It's better to be cautious as well. Everyone's body and illness are unique and should, in doubt, always be professionally evaluated.

6 tips to avoid overindulging in online health information

Even though most of us know that the internet isn't a truly reliable source of health information, we still check things online. When caught in a Dr. Google binge, it should be interrupted as soon as possible. It's not easy, I know. Here are the tips that, in my opinion, can help:

#1: Choose a single trustworthy website to obtain health information from.

#2: Block other websites in your browser, except for the one you selected in Tip #1.

#3: Avoid forums. Here, you often find only subjective answers from non-professional users, and 90% of the answers are usually: "Have it checked by a doctor."

#4: Speak directly with a trusted person about your symptoms or fears.

#5: If in doubt, schedule an appointment with a doctor immediately. Fortunately, you can now also book appointments at night using various booking tools like DoctoLib.

#6: Close the browser.

Please note: This article does not replace a visit to a physician or other medical professionals.

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