Does Access to the Internet at All Times Make Us Hypochondriacs?

In one of my first posts here at Smart Phone Health Care, I talked about how my doctor told me not to look online about medical conditions. As much as I would like to say I took that advice, I’d like to keep myself an honest woman, and admit that I didn’t. I’m sure there are tons of articles out there about how the Internet has made this generation into hypochondriacs. However, sometimes I feel like the ability to access the Internet from a phone, and even have apps to check symptoms, is making that even more true.

For example: Recently, I have been experiencing some different health problems that don’t indicate any clear diagnosis (and since I’m currently out-of-state, and my insurance only really works in my home state, I can’t really go to a doctor without rocket high fees), I’ve been tempted to try and self-diagnosis myself (note: bad idea). Well, the other night, I started having some of my symptoms in the middle of the night. However, because I leave my computer down stairs at night, I couldn’t determine if it was serious or not. So, what do I do? Pull out my smart phone and type the symptoms into an app I had downloaded. Well, after a few minutes, I was convinced that I had Leukemia. There was a list of about 20 different sicknesses I could have, but, of course, my eyes shifted directly toward that one. Upon further investigation, I also decided that I had anemia, gall stones, an ulcer, and a few other things.

Do I have any of these things? No, I’m pretty sure I don’t. However, in my pain-induced panic, with my phone an arm length away, I thought I did. Had I not had access to my symptom identifier app (the free Web MD app — I’ll have to do a review on it later. It’s pretty handy) so quickly, and just waited until the morning to investigate, I probably would have had a more restful night and not jumped to such big conclusions. Even if this happened in the middle of the day, most of the time I’m not right next to my laptop and when I am, I have probably forgotten about it. However, having my phone nearby almost 24/7, I can look up things easily, and fast (most of the time, too fast).

On the flip side of things, the other day my husband mentioned that he thought it was pretty cool how we can get almost immediate feedback on certain topics. I got a painful spider bite while we were walking into the county health building, and, since the pain didn’t subside for about an hour, we decided to see what normal side effects to spider bites were. Since we were out and about, it was nice to be able to quickly look this information up on one of our smart phones and find out what was normal, and what should be watched for.

So having this quick access can be a good thing, because information can be accessed quickly, but also has the definite potential to create worry where worry is unnecessary. I guess it all comes down to knowing limits, and not taking the results from an app or internet search as a diagnosis. No matter how advanced mHealth gets, I don’t think anything can ever replace getting actual results from an actual doctor. I’m just grateful that self-diagnosing through mobile apps or the Internet isn’t always super accurate (especially when I’m the one doing the diagnosing!)

Just something I’ve been thinking about lately. What do you think? Have you looked up symptoms more often since  having a smart phone?

About the author

Katie Clark

Katie Clark

Katie Clark is originally from Colorado and currently lives in Utah with her husband and son. She writes primarily for Smart Phone Health Care, but contributes to several Health Care Scene blogs, including EMR Thoughts, EMR and EHR, and EMR and HIPAA. She enjoys learning about Health IT and mHealth, and finding ways to improve her own health along the way.

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