This is the second of two pieces I wrote on 8 October 2011 on the subject of searching online for health-related information and coming face-to-face with the issue of trust. This was the first one: “snake oil, bone-shakers and witch-doctors 2.0″
Spurred on by my recent search for food information and the number of hokey websites I found myself looking at, I decided to go one step further and investigate some online diagnosis sites.
Once again, it is nigh on impossible to tell the voice you can trust from the ones that ought to be denied access to the internet altogether. And of the majority, which sit between those two extreme points, there is no easy way of knowing who is well-intentioned but essentially wrong on too many counts, and who is being deliberately misleading in order to promote their own beliefs.
I decided to spend a little time filling in some online forms, answering questions about my health, so I could see for myself what kind of information might be presented to someone entering into this sort of activity genuinely.
With a mind to some everyday aches and pains (the kind I imagine we all suffer from occasionally) I answered all the questions accurately and honestly. Well, mostly – I lied about my gender on one site. We’ll come on to that shortly.
It might be worth pointing out that my family doctor, a charming and thorough man, recently insisted I had a full set of blood tests and an ECG. Everything came back normal, and his assessment was that I am in very good shape for a man of my age. In fact, my lung capacity and strength is that of someone 20 years my junior, he said. Perhaps that’s from all the practice I have of blowing my own trumpet.
So what of the time I spent with Doctor Interwebz? What was the diagnosis from that?
Well, I have always believed that when it comes to any form of self-diagnosis all roads lead to cancer. These beliefs were not shattered by this weekend’s activities. In three parts of my body I am – allegedly – exhibiting symptoms that could indicate cancer.
In addition to which, I learned I need an urgent medical assessment of my cardio-vascular functions.
But my favourite diagnosis by far was the one that told me I was experiencing symptoms that indicate the onset of the menopause.
It’s hard not to laugh, which is why I did indeed laugh. But there is a serious point buried in here.
When it comes to online information, the issue of trust – it seems to me – is as valid today as it has ever been.
In some ways, I take comfort from the fact that little really changes when it comes to human nature. Some folk like to be scared, while others are happy to lead you astray.
It’s a jungle out there people – stay safe.
And for goodness sake, if you really are concerned about your health don’t go anywhere near the internet. Go and see a real doctor.
A footnote: I decided against including links to any of the sites I visited. Trust me, it’s for your own good. Added to which I don’t think they deserve the traffic.