Paging Dr. Google: How Doctors Feel About You Checking Symptoms Online

Posted: May 03rd 2021
Categories: Primary Care
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We’re all guilty of it. Maybe it’s a tickle in the back of your throat, digestive problems after eating a meal, or the unsettling feeling that something’s just not right.

When your phone is right at your fingertips, it couldn’t be easier to type your symptoms into a search engine and let “Dr. Google” go to work. The Internet is chock-full of information, to say the least. But when it comes to diagnosing your own medical symptoms, that sometimes puts us at a disadvantage.

“Everyone has a health concern at one time or another,” says Dr. Joseph Barbato, one of our primary care physicians who sees patients in Lewiston and Niagara Falls. “but self-diagnosis can cause more bad than good at times. It’s important to be mindful of your own baseline health status, and always best to be evaluated by a healthcare professional.”

How Do Doctors [Really] Feel About Patients Googling Their Symptoms?

“While the Internet can often be a great resource, patients Googling their symptoms or health concerns can be quite dangerous for a number of reasons. Certain symptoms should prompt a patient to seek medical attention immediately. These include, but are not limited to: sudden onset shortness of breath, severe abdominal pain that won’t go away, sudden changes in level of consciousness, or symptoms of stroke (facial droop, arm weakness, slurred speech). When time is of the essence, never hesitate to seek medical attention.”

Joseph Barbato, DO – Trinity Medical WNY

When Internet Research Does More Harm Than Good

Here are a few examples of ways that relying on the Internet for a medical diagnosis does more harm than good:

  • A misdiagnosis that leads to a patient requesting unnecessary treatment or medications
  • Increased levels of stress and anxiety
  • Relying on resources that have not been fact-checked or peer-reviewed, especially social media sites

In fact, Dr. Barbato says there are a few conditions patients commonly misdiagnose after using “Dr. Google.” These include bronchitis or other airway diseases, rashes, anemia, Lyme disease, and certain autoimmune diseases – like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, and Celiac disease.

Bridging the Gaps: Bringing Research to the Doctor’s Office

As a patient, if you’re experiencing a symptom that is a cause for concern, the best course of action is always to discuss it with your primary care physician.

If you find you’re spending a lot of time Googling your symptoms, or perhaps have multiple concerns, you can write these down so they don’t slip your mind leading up to your appointment.

Above all, patients should never use a medication that has not been prescribed to them by their own provider. If you cannot resist the urge to research medical symptoms or concerns, Dr. Barbato’s recommendations include UpToDate, MayoClinic, MedlinePlus, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as your physician’s or health system’s website.

Schedule a Visit with Dr. Barbato

Joseph Barbato, DO

Dr. Joseph Barbato is a board certified doctor who specializes in family medicine. You can schedule an appointment to see Dr. Barbato at our Lewiston ((716) 298-5862) or Niagara Falls ((716) 754-8083) practice.