I've done it, you've done it, and the majority of people with access to the internet have done it. It's way too compelling to simply Google your health symptoms when you have something wonky going on. Of course, it's never a good idea to diagnose yourself with what you find on this or that website, but a new study suggests that searching our medical symptoms before heading to the doc can actually be a good thing.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that this new study, published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, shows that internet medical research can sometimes improve patients’ relationships with doctors and empower patients to be more involved in their healthcare. According to Science Alert, a team of Australian researchers surveyed a sample of 400 anonymous emergency room patients to assess how internet research influenced participants’ interactions with doctors. Researchers found that up to one-third of those admitted to the ER had consulted the internet about their symptoms beforehand, and 49 percent of those surveyed reported that they search online for health information on a regular basis.
And now for the results: Of the 190 participants surveyed who were admitted to the hospital, 150 reported better communication with doctors post-internet query. They reported being better equipped to ask questions, understand their health care provider, and communicate more effectively overall, The Sydney Morning Herald further reports.
According to SBS News Australia, many doctors warn against using Google as an attempt to self-diagnose, as this can lead folks to draw the worst conclusions about health issues that can be easily resolved. But researchers state that, so long as patients stick with websites that contain reputable medical information, researching symptoms online can actually be pretty helpful. Per SBS News, study co-author Dr. Anthony Cocco said that “Researching allows patients to be able to clarify and sort out what they’re feeling. Most notably, they were able to ask more informed questions of their doctors and communicate more effectively,” he said. Meaning that, if you're concerned about a health issue, taking some time on your own to do research on it ahead of your appointment can make you feel more in control of your symptoms, and help your doctor more quickly figure out what's going on.
And while you definitely don’t want to take the time to hit up Google in the event of a true medical emergency — just get to the ER as quickly as possible — doing a bit of symptom research can be helpful before seeing your doctor. Just make sure you’re not attempting to self-diagnose, and remember to check out legitimate medical sources and online resources. Furthermore, avoid falling down the potential rabbit hole of anecdotal online forums and social media — this can trigger more anxiety than yield helpful information, since it's so unique to the individual. And if you’re prone to anxiety, or if researching you’re symptoms is contributing to feelings of overwhelm and panic, it’s probably best to skip the independent research, and check in with your doctor who can best assess any issues you might be having.