Are Online Health Sites Turning Us Into Hypochondriacs?

25 Feb
2009

Can online tools from the likes of WebMD and MayoClinic.com help you find what ails you?  I’m overstressed, overweight, losing my hearing and not sleeping enough. Even worse, I have a low IQ and my “real” age (taking into account my bad habits and so on) is 10 years older than my actual age.  ComputerWorld shows how many consumer focused websites offer online health assessment tools don’t really offer the same level of diagnosis that can be obtained by an actual office visit.  I can recall when we deployed healthanswers.com as a consumer portal for health information we were very much a content focused company that offered online tools to help manage specific aspects of a disease but we did not attempt to diagnose health related problems.  In the online world where instant gratification and information is available at the click of a mouse I think consumer focused health care portals today should tread lightly when offering such online ailment tools as most today are not inclusive of the patient history and can’t zero in on the more critical aspects of a patients complaint.   At Northwestern my informatics professor called this the hand on the door diagnosis or the “oh, by the way” portion of the clinical assesement.  What the patient “feels” may be a problem and what the physician “knows” is a problem are two totally different things.  Will this prevent patients from using these tools?  No, but consumers should be made aware of the caveots for using such tools online and at the very least should stick to reputable sites for their health information.

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