Self Diagnosing

Googling Symptoms: Blessing or Curse?

Calling Dr. Google. Calling Dr. Google.

It’s just so commonplace these days. People are diagnosing themselves and some are running to their doctors or therapists looking for treatment ahead of the professional’s examination and diagnosis. Indeed, going on the Internet to find resources to support oneself is empowering. There are any number of solid sources of information and help. However, when self-diagnosing, people need to be aware of selection bias. It is this bias that separates the lay person from the professional.

Selection bias refers to a tendency to look for and accept information that aligns with our pre-conceived perspective. While we think we are seeking all information related to our symptoms, there remains a likelihood that without realizing it, we are keying in on those bits of information, consistent with what we already believe. That means we are filtering out a multitude of other causes and hence may be wrong in our self-diagnosis.

There is another concern when surfing for information. Almost all search engines gather information attuned to our prior searches. The search engine literally anticipates our preferences and shows results aligned with our interests. This too can limit the results of a search and lead to false self-diagnosis.

It certainly is reasonable to search and find information. However, rather than accepting the results as fact, consider it a question to be asked of the professional. Let your health care provider know what you have found and see if after examination, they agree. The importance of a correct diagnosis is that it leads to appropriate treatment. With the wrong diagnosis the treatment sought will be of no value or worse, can contribute to worsening issues and the symptoms will likely continue.

Within the realm of mental health, diagnosis is also often made on the basis of observable or reported behavior. This doesn’t necessarily lead us to understand what has given rise to the symptoms. That too is the expertise of the healthcare professional. So, as we say, certainly look. After you have found something, verify this with your healthcare professional. It will certainly lend to better mental health.

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