Was there a day before Google was a verb and the answer to every question was just a search away? The Digital Age has put information at our fingertips. Unfortunately, not all of that information is accurate or useful, and when your search relates to your health, it can be downright dangerous.
Physicians and advanced practitioners are all too familiar with patients searching online to diagnose and treat themselves, before (or instead of) visiting a healthcare professional. While self-diagnosis stories can make for great online entertainment and clinician jokes, the issue is very real.
Some of the most obvious challenges associated with patient self-diagnosis include:
- Misdiagnoses. It’s very common for a self-diagnosis to be incorrect, and it can really scare people into thinking the worst.
- Mistreatment. It can be extremely dangerous for someone to self-diagnose and attempt to treat or recover on their own. It’s not difficult to imagine scenarios where the wrong medicine or method could make things worse.
- Loss of trust. When patients diagnose themselves before seeing a doctor, it undermines the doctor and their expertise. It’s frustrating for clinicians, and weakens the trust that should be built in every patient relationship.
3 Steps to Help Your Patients Help Themselves
Despite your efforts to inform your circle of friends and family about the dangers of self-diagnosis, chances are you will still come across “Dr. Google.” When you have a self-diagnosing patient on your hands, we recommend these simple steps.
- Start by listening. Help your patients feel heard, even if you don’t agree with their choice to trust online findings. Tuning out their input or launching into an argument against self-diagnosis will cause the conversation to break down before it’s begun.
- Talk with them. Once you’ve helped them feel heard, share that you respect and understand they wanted to do their own research, but you are going to treat them based on your knowledge and in-person observations—something Google can’t provide.
- Underscore WHY they should avoid consulting Google in the future. Encourage patients to always speak with or visit their primary care provider, or visit the ER when necessary. It’s important for them to know and gather all of the facts about any health issues they’re experiencing, but it's best to have an actual licensed doctor or nurse to review their situation, get the right diagnosis and pursue the right treatment. It may save them money in the short-term to avoid a co-pay, but a misdiagnosis can be a lot costlier in the end.
Like a practice in meditation, it takes time to master handling “Dr. Google”. Comment below to share your top patient self-diagnosis story (anonymous, of course) or your best tip for engaging with self-diagnosing patients. As always, don’t hesitate to contact us if you want to connect with a recruiter about your career options.