Cyberchondria: The Risks of Online Self-Diagnosis

With the internet an every-day part of life, many people resort to it when they get sick.  In fact, a recent survey shows eight in ten web users try to answer their health-related questions from the comfort of their computer.  But self-diagnosis can lead to avoidable problems.

Self-diagnosis is gaining popularity around the country.  For many people it's convenient to look-up your pains and symptoms on medical websites to determine what you've come down with.

"Goin' to the doctor is kind of a pain.  You have to get off work," said Kristie Rogers.

But if you ask someone in the medical field about it, they'll probably talk more about the risks.

"They need to not try to diagnose themselves at home.  They need to seek professional healthcare, see their healthcare provider, before they try to formulate a diagnosis and miss medical treatment they may need," said Nurse Practitioner Nicole Hooper.

One issue has been labeled 'Cyberchondria' -- anxiety that comes from online health-related searches.

"You read about it and think, "Oh my gosh!  I've got that!" And really you don't," said Darrell Yates.

That's exactly what Hooper says -- often people who self-diagnose cause themselves undue worry.

"It could be a really simple diagnosis, and they come to the office and think that they've got something terrible because they've been online and looked up symptoms for different things," she said.

Hooper knows of patients that have ended up in the ER -- something they could have avoided if they had gotten a simple, but accurate diagnosis from a real doctor.  But some Texomans say it's worth it, if you can save a few bucks.

"The cost of hospitals and bills and ambulances is goin' up," said Hellen Erisoro.

Hooper says you can find a lot of inaccuracies online, especially if you visit personal websites or blogs.  Remember -- anyone can claim to be a physician on the internet.

"A lot of those are opinion based websites and they're not getting evidence-based medicine answers to questions.  They're just getting opinions," Hooper said.

Some people do realize, at least, that self-diagnosis has its limits.

"I don't think it should be used in place of a doctor, but I think it's very helpful to use right before you go to the doctor," Rogers said.

Hooper did say there are some websites where you can find useful, additional information, after you've already been diagnosed by a medical professional.  We've provided links to two of those sites with this story.

Spencer Blake, Newschannel 6