Although more and more people are turning to the Internet for medical advice, “Dr Google” is no substitute for an actual visit to a doctor, health experts say.
At a recent health summit in Hanover, Germany, Martina Wenker of the state medical association for Lower Saxony (AEKN) said: “The constant accessibility of medical information of varying degrees of accuracy on the Internet is very unsettling for many patients.”
The conference brought together medical professionals, politicians, businesspeople and societal figures to discuss digitalisation in healthcare.
Wenker pointed to “cyberchondria”, the unfounded fear of having a serious illness after researching symptoms on the Internet. Studies have shown that such research intensifies the fears of people prone to hypochondria.
“We doctors have to take these patients' fears seriously and properly sort out all the information for them, which is best done in face-to-face communication between the doctor and patient,” she said.
According to study published early this year by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, a German private foundation, half of all German Internet users do online research on health topics at least once a month – 58% before a doctor's visit and 62% after receiving a doctor's diagnosis.
More than half of those surveyed said they were “usually or always satisfied” with the research results, while 44% said they were “sometimes satisfied”.
“In our view, the possibilities and benefits of the Internet outweigh the lurking dangers,” Marion Grote-Westrick, who led the study, told dpa, adding that doctors should provide patients with more information and links to science-based websites.
“We urge that reliable information of this kind, including videos, be stored in patients' files in future.”
She said standardised decision aids to help patients choose between treatment alternatives were needed as well. – dpa