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Dangerous outcome of information overload

Kavya Balaraman, Sep 13, 2013, DHNS :

Wrong trend

Harmful  :More and more patients are beginning to question their doctor's diagnosis. Pic for illustration purpose only
Thanks to the ample information available on the internet, those in the medical profession have noticed a shift — patients no longer come to them to diagnose a particular ailment.

Rather, they come to merely reconfirm an assumption that they’ve already come to. This isn’t a surprising trend, given the sky-rocketing rates of medical consultation and the easy availability of symptom lists and remedies on the web. Most Bangaloreans prefer doing a perfunctory search of their ailment before taking the matter to a professional. And while this does give them an added benefit of wisdom, doctors also warn that it could have dangerous repercussions.

Most doctors feel that this form of internet treatment isn’t something that people do continuously or in the case of serious ailments. “In Bangalore, for instance, one of the most common ailments is asthma. There are plenty of patients who check the internet to see what symptoms they’re facing and treat themselves accordingly. However, when they realise after three or four days that they’re still experiencing discomfort, they generally approach a doctor,” explains Dr Huliraj, a physician.

On the other hand, some feel that it isn’t always that straightforward. “I consider this access to information to be a double-edged sword. It educates the patient but at the same time, it could give them the wrong idea. For instance, if someone is suffering from fever, it could be a simple case of viral infection. But if one were to check the net, they could easily come to a different conclusion and visit a specialist, which is completely unnecessary,” says Dr Dayananda, a Bangalore-based physician.

He goes on to add that while surfing the web, patients have a tendency to get confused between side-effects and adverse events. “This is the case when a patient is researching a particular drug. Side-effects are the repercussions the drug could possibly have but adverse events are the notes made by subjects of medical tests. Patients sometimes confuse the two and discontinue a drug which has been prescribed to them,” he adds.
Most patients, though, arm themselves with prior knowledge because over the last few years, trust in the medical profession has declined steeply.

“Many people suspect that doctors — especially those tied to large hospitals — have a tendency to over-medicate their patients and prescribe several tests simply to boost their profit. Given the price of these tests, it isn’t surprising that we’d rather have a basic idea of what we’re suffering from before going for them,” says Miriam, a professional.
Those in the medical profession are fully aware of this. However, they also point out that a perfunctory search on the internet isn’t enough to question their experience and can often lead patients to make wrong decisions.

“At the end of the day, trust is important — it can go a long way in healing a patient. That trust could be lost for various reasons — for instance, if a patient were to visit a quack simply because his consultation fee is less, there’s a high chance they might not receive the correct treatment. It’s important to see the background of a doctor, find someone you have faith in and follow his advice,” concludes Dr Dayananda.

 

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