We live in an era of instantly accessible information. However, that’s not always a good thing.

Eight out of 10 web users research symptoms

Since the launch of WebMD, it’s becoming easier to convince ourselves that going to the doctor is unnecessary. Instead, we can just get on our smartphone or laptop, enter in our symptoms, and self-diagnose. How popular is self-diagnosis these days? A study from Pew Research found that 80% of adults assess their symptoms on the Web. That explains why WebMD is the most popular health-related website in the United States, with 80 million unique visitors each month.

That said, it would be irresponsible and incorrect to claim that you can’t believe anything you read online. After all, many of the articles on health websites are either written or medically reviewed by MDs and other healthcare professionals. If you look in the right places – such as the websites of healthcare practices – you can find reliable information for chronic pain and other maladies.

However, without a doctor to help you filter information and compare what’s going on in your body to what’s written on a webpage, it’s easy to be misled. Self-diagnosis can even lead to a condition known as cyberchondria, which is anxiety about one’s health that stems from online research.

How the Internet can help pain management

Although completely putting your faith in the Internet is unwise and can lead to mood disorders and misguided treatments, it should by no means be disregarded by doctors specializing in chronic pain or any other field.

“I don’t think people should diagnose themselves, but they should use the Internet to become educated,” argues Rajnish Mago, a psychiatric professor at Thomas Jefferson University.

Specifically, he believes that patients can read webpages or watch videos not for full self-diagnosis but to check what health conditions they might have. That proactive tactic can generate a more thoughtful conversation with the doctor, as long as it is mutually respectful.

Like people in many other industries, healthcare professionals are often strapped for time. It isn’t always possible for them to give patients as much information as they would like or to even analyze the symptoms as thoroughly as is needed in some cases.

Mago says that doctors frequently overlook health conditions, so patient questions can be extraordinarily helpful.

The expertise you need

“Doctors need to be proactive about this,” Mago says of online research, “but that’s not what’s happening.”

He specifically recommends MedLinePlus to his patients, a free informational resource created by the National Library of Medicine.

In other words, the Internet is extraordinarily useful as a patient research tool for pain management or any other specialty; but it shouldn’t be mistaken for a doctor.

If you’re experiencing chronic pain, we make it easy to get your questions answered through a free consultation with Dr. Roy.