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‘Cyberchondria’: 40% of Americans have misdiagnosed themselves online
A new survey highlights the side effects of using Google to self-diagnose.
- A new survey of Americans suggests that online self-diagnosing often leads to stress and unreliable information.
- Forty percent of respondents said they had received inaccurate diagnoses online.
- Still, symptom-checkers can be useful, especially for determining when to go to the hospital.
Using Google to self-diagnose potential medical conditions often leads to stress and seriously inaccurate diagnoses, according to a new survey.
The survey, commissioned by a personal health testing company LetsGetChecked, polled 2,140 Americans and found that 65 percent had tried diagnosing themselves on Google. Of those respondents, 74 percent said these attempts had stressed them out. One reason: The diagnoses they found online were inaccurate more than half of the time, meaning many people falsely convince themselves they have serious illnesses.
Why not see a doctor? A majority of survey respondents said they'd avoided doctors because of factors like cost, lack of time and concerns that the doctor wouldn't take their symptoms seriously. Given these reasons, it's no wonder why many prefer the immediate consultation of "Dr. Google" or "Google University", as some health care professionals have dubbed the online self-diagnosis phenomenon. Self-diagnosing has become so common that there's even a word for people who do it too much: "cyberchondriacs".
Do symptom-checkers do any good?
But is there any value in using the internet to self-diagnose? David Kopp, chief executive officer of Healthline Media, argued that Googling symptoms often helps people better manage their health.
"Contrary to popular belief, consumers can typically trust what they find online," Kopp wrote in an opinion piece in Newsweek. "The three fastest growing online sources of medical information contain content written or curated by physicians. In addition, reputable government sites like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health are among the most visited on the internet."
The keyword there is "reputable" — there's of course no shortage of shoddy, unreliable and downright insane medical advice on the internet. Still, some sources do seem to help people self-diagnose with relative accuracy.
When #symptoms are present, you need a reliable, evidence-based symptom triage. But even more than a symptom checke… https://t.co/nIdDEzncSz— Mayo Clinic Content (@Mayo Clinic Content)1560780027.0
A 2015 study published by BMJ in 2015 examined 23 popular symptom checkers commonly used by insurance companies, medical schools and government agencies. Overall, these systems correctly diagnosed the condition on the first try 34 percent of the time, and the correct diagnosis appeared in the first three diagnoses about half of the time. (The symptom-checkers with the highest accuracy were Isabel, iTriage, Mayo Clinic and Symcat, all of which are free to use.)
Symptom-checkers often get it wrong, but they generally do a good job of telling people when to go to the hospital.
"It's not nearly as important for a patient with fever, headache, stiff neck, and confusion to know whether they have meningitis or encephalitis as it is for them to know that they should get to an ER quickly," Ateev Mehrotra, associate professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School, told The Harvard Gazette. "These tools may be useful in patients who are trying to decide whether they should get to a doctor quickly, but in many cases, users should be cautious and not take the information they receive from online symptom checkers as gospel."
Why symptom-checkers can't replace a doctor
The main shortcoming of symptom-checkers is that they don't factor in your comprehensive medical history.
"Each person has a different family history, has experienced different risk factors, and has his own social history, all of which contribute to the decision-making process a physician goes through," board-certified internist Dana Corriel, MD, told Byrdie in an interview.
So, even though a symptom-search for "cough" might show "cold" next to "lung cancer", it's usually no reason to panic. But if you're unsure?
"A primary care doctor is always available for a quick visit or question on the phone," Corriel said. "They cover general internal medicine and can answer most questions about the body."
- Medical History of North America - Big Think ›
- A medical history map of the United States - Big Think ›
- Googling medical symptoms likely 'OK', study finds - Big Think ›
The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.
- One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
- A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
- The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.