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Dr Google' Changing Patient-Doctor Relationship
Source: Daily Nation
Source Date: Saturday, November 12, 2011
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government, ICT for MDGs
Country: Kenya
Created: Dec 01, 2011

Almost everything nowadays is digital or will be accessed through digital means. So it is little surprise that, at the first mysterious twinge in the chest or shortness of breath, we self-diagnose by Googling our symptoms. A growing body of research shows that many people are visiting 'Dr Google' first before seeing their usual doctor. Many websites on the internet deal with online medical information, providing people with crucial tips about their health through the internet. This includes providing possible illnesses when one provides symptoms. Some studies show that as many as 60 per cent of internet users consult the internet to diagnose their aches and pains, rather than consult a real doctor, or before they see their doctor. In some cases, however, self-diagnosis leads to anxiety mainly because of misdiagnosis. Some, because of misdiagnosis, arrive at their health provider convinced they have some horrendous diseases like cancer when in fact it is something minor. Although the internet can be a treasure trove of medical information, it can also lead to the creation of a condition called in IT circles as "cyberchondriacs". This happens where a person is inundated with information about every disease under the sun, they start to imagine they have them all, and hit the panic button. In their minds, every mole is skin cancer. A nosebleed is surely a sign of a tumour. Headache? Must be skyrocketing blood pressure. We've all done at least once. Whether it's a dull ache in your chest or a persistent case of the hiccups, you turn to the internet to diagnose yourself with a minor symptom and end up convinced you're suffering from cardiac arrest or neurological disorders. Many people prefer searching for information about their health because some health problems are very personal and they find the internet a secure and anonymous way to get answers. This shielding mechanism motivates patients to shoot questions that they would otherwise avoid if they visited the physician and had a face-to-face consultation. Others prefer the internet because they do not have to queue to see a doctor. Some want to see if the lifestyle they lead is having a positive or negative effect on their health. There is a growing trend of doctors establishing websites where their patients can reach and consult them. Normally, such doctors will become personally acquainted with your patients and give each a thorough examination in person before allowing subsequent consultations online. To the doctors, online resources would allow them to double check all medical decisions online using the access to an enormous amount of medical references that one would expect to find in a medical library. In most cases, doctors and patients agree on online consultations where a patient is either too ill to travel or the travel expenses abroad are prohibitive. To start online consultations, besides their tools of trade, doctors would also need a secure website and special software to communicate with their patients. While a private and secure email address will also be an important tool for business, other tools such as a web camera, a private telephone line and a secure platform for live interactive web chats would also be crucial to the business. Patients, on the other hand, will need similar facilities in their houses for effective communication with the doctor. Health information on the internet can be truly useful. The key is to use it constructively and to stop when you start a medical wild goose chase. It seems that, despite the risk of cyberchondria, Dr Google is educating and empowering a growing number of patients who need additional information about their health, which sometimes some doctors withhold.
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