Healthcare Information overload: The Eternal, Patient & Web Search Engine Odyssey

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A guy in his mid 20’s, walks into my clinic, appears to be well-groomed. Appears fidgety with his hands and legs when he sits down on the stool. Immediately after sitting down, he stuns me with a verbal ‘electrocution’ of sorts, when he says that he needs a CT-scan of his chest for this ‘something’ that creeps in his chest. According to him, his Chest x-ray was fine and another Doc had earlier told him to he needed a CT-scan to delve deeper to find the cause (which I doubt the Doc actually said that). After the initial shock and Awe, I examined him and found him to be perfectly fine akin to a brand new unboxed watch. If the previous ‘electrocution’ wasn’t enough, he hurled another fiery barrage of verbal electrical bolts towards me when he said that he consulted ‘ Doodle’ ( pun intended ) and as a result, he thought he had ‘Pleurisy’(a condition in which there is a pain in the chest due to inflammation/infection of the layer around the lungs). He was adamant and convinced at the authenticity of the suggestion given by ‘Doodle’. This was quite in contrast to how unsatisfied people are with the explanation given by Doctors, but ironically, ‘Doodle’ had done the impossible.

Having realized where the problem was, I explained why he did not have ‘Pleurisy’ (took some time and burnout of quite a few neurons). The heart of the problem lies in the dizzying and hallucinating Tango which people do with search engines when it comes to digging out Health-related info. Eventually after a basic blood work (which obviously was fine), he merrily (apparently) walked out of the clinic having been relieved of his ‘Pleurisy’.

The technological advancements in this day and age have come progressed in leaps and bounds. One Marvel being the internet with basic info spanning from the microscopic structure of the human brain to building megastructures, available at ease. One would expect that with such easy access to the internet and this information, the masses would reap only benefits in terms of the vast ocean of knowledge. But like everything has a downside, the internet is no different, especially search engines. In my clinical experience, the mental health and obsession over unnecessary health information have gone from bad to worse over the years. I have seen people become paranoid, obsessed, and finicky over petty everyday health issues. This is bound to happen when you search for causes of ‘Headache’ and ‘Doodle’ spurts out Brain tumor right on top of the list. While at the same time knowing that you slept late last night which was caused the headache.
The misinformation and lack of direction is just the start of the misery for the particular person and his/her family. In this age of insurance-based health care systems, such a person may end up with an unnecessary CT-scan of the head (radiation exposure equivalent to 400 chest x rays) which itself can be a risk factor for cancer in the long run. Healthcare information can be quite handy for the layman when it comes from the right source. In these times of the COVID-19 pandemic and also in the post –COVID-19 era, getting the right healthcare info will be vital for everyone. Since an unnecessary visit to a healthcare facility may end up giving you an infection. On the other hand, authentic health care info can go a long way in giving one direction and relaxing the apprehensive minds. Telemedicine has already sprung up as the current and future frontier in Healthcare.

One thing to be reiterated is that our bodies are quite resilient and not every headache or chest pain is doom, gloom, and eternal misery. Not every abdominal pain is acute appendicitis. Hell, you can get abdominal pain by stuffing yourself with food and drink. Not everyone requires attention from a Healthcare provider at a clinic/Hospital. Simple home remedies can save you from months or even years of shuttling from one place to the other just because ‘Doodle’ thought you had a disease that Doctors could not seek out. The problem is that when one is persistent and insistent, the health care setups eventually end up doing what is requested ( it’s in the provider’s benefit, unfortunately ). Health Care Providers could end up making the wrong decisions in the face of this undue stubbornness. This is a mere waste of resources and time, in addition, adds to the apprehensions of the concerned.

To sum it up, the World Wide Web holds a wealth of healthcare information but injudicious use of it and being obsessed with petty health issues spins a web of dissatisfaction and unnecessary inquisitiveness around us. When you feel you have some health issue that is bothering you persistently, take advice from qualified people be it in person, Telemedicine, or in form of blogs/articles (by qualified and relevant professionals).
The common man scouring through search engine for healthcare information is like sinking in quicksand. The more you try to waddle your way out of it, the more you will sink further.

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Dr. Syed Hunain Riaz
He is a Specialist Physician by qualification with expertise, interest and experience in Endocrinology/Metabolism and infectious diseases. He has extensive experience in delivering talks to audiences regarding topics relating to Endocrinology/Metabolism and HIV & AIDS( on platforms of various international organizations). Has a few research articles under his belt. He likes to convey his thoughts through articles for the masses. Besides medicine has interests in astronomy/cosmology, traveling, photography and philosophy.

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