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Doctors Caution Against Online Self Diagnosis

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It's flu season, cold season, and everything in between season.

Usually when people were sick, they went to the doctor's office, but more and more people heading to the Internet instead.

When Beth Feldman woke up with a red, swollen eyelid, her first thought was to call the doctor.

When she couldn't get an appointment right away, she decided to do a little symptom searching online.

"It's good to just look and see if it's not too serious, I'm going to see if I can just take care of this at home," said Feldman.

Physicians often worry about patients playing doctor, concerned they might jump to the wrong diagnosis. "When you go online and self diagnose, you're going to websites and using your limited medical knowledge to look at a big list of differential diagnoses, and your immediately going to go to the worst possible situations," said Dan Feiten, MD.

Feiten said new websites created by the medical community itself are helping patients do a little pre-doctor work correctly.

Certain ‘symptom checkers' can cut down on unnecessary doctor's office calls, emergency room visits, and expensive co-pays, said Feiten.

"The more serious conditions are the least likely ones, " said Christine Laine, MD, with the American College of Physicians.

Laine warned users to check the source of the websites before self-diagnosing. "Professional organizations like the American College of Physicians or reputable patient and consumer groups should generally be trusted more than information that's coming from an organization that the patient has never heard of," said Laine.

Laine said that the websites are helpful, but will not have that doctor's touch. "The symptom checkers can't put the information in the context of the patient and their lives, they can't look at how sick the patient is," said Laine.

"If there's any red flags when I'm reading the information, I'm calling the doctor," said Feldman.

Feldman said her eye didn't warrant a trip to the doctor.

She said she plans to consult the web from now on, before paying the doctor a visit.

Doctors also suggest looking for online information from an impartial source, not sites paid for by drug companies or featuring ads for health remedies.

 

Maureen Wurtz

mwurtz@kptm.com

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