Eight in ten people will Google their symptoms to access health information, according to Pew Research studies on the social impact of the internet, and nearly a quarter of people (24 per cent) surveyed in The British Health Report, commissioned by Your Legal Friend, said they have used the internet to “self diagnose” their medical conditions.
Doctors warn of risks
Researching a medical condition online can be informative and enlightening but doctors are absolutely right to warn about the risks of using internet sites for more complex self diagnosis and treatment.
The reality is that information supplied on the internet – especially in health matters – needs to be approached with great caution at all times.
But is the NHS itself, unwittingly contributing to the rise in those patients who may have become reliant on self-diagnosis?
Majority of patients preferred to seek medical advice “from other sources”
In The British Health Report, an online survey of 400 doctors and 1,000 members of the public who have used NHS services, it was found that a majority of patients had preferred to take the risk of seeking medical advice “from other sources.”
Apart from online, more than one in five (21 per cent) have also turned to medical self help books to cure their illnesses. It may be more than a coincidence that nearly two in three (61 per cent) patients reported “having to wait for more than two days” to obtain a doctor’s appointment and one in five (20 per cent) wait seven days.
The ability to gain access and discuss personal health matters with a doctor is the very basis of patient care within medical diagnosis and treatment. It’s understandable that patients would become increasingly concerned by lengthening waiting times and turn to self-diagnosis despite knowing there could be obvious risks
The impact of self-help is being felt by doctors too. The Report found that while nearly three quarters of patients (71 per cent) admit delaying a visit to the doctor, nearly half (44 per cent) of doctors say the delay was because patients were self diagnosing by using the internet and self help books.
Delays encourage rise of self diagnosis
According to Dr Chris Steele MBE, resident doctor on ITV’s ‘This Morning’ programme, “Patients must always seek professional medical advice rather than following advice from the internet or in self help books. A practising professional is always the best person to consult.”
However, Dr Steele also said that to ensure “Patient care should always be at the front of all doctors’ minds” the NHS needs to be “more accessible” to everyone and cites “the delays in booking doctor’s appointments” as merely encouraging the escalation of self diagnosis.
NHS facing pressure
The concern growing around appointment waiting times, and other specific reported aspects of NHS care highlighted in the British Health Report, is not only shared by medical practitioners and their patients. There’s no doubt that the NHS is now facing inordinate pressures and coping with fresh challenges almost daily, and the impact upon ordinary members of the public appears to be having wide-ranging consequences.
Here at Your Legal Friend, Sara Stanger, Solicitor says, “At a time when nearly half of doctors (44 per cent) believe patient care in the NHS will decline in the next five years, we need to ensure that patients are being properly treated.
People have always been drawn to self diagnosis but it should never be promoted as a “quick fix” alternative to arranging an appointment. With doctors also voicing concerns over patient care we need to ensure that negligence doesn’t arise and that all patients have access to the very best medical support.”