Is There A Doctor In The Mouse? Why Google’s A Bad Place For Diagnosis

Oh no, I'm dying - this man did a Google search on what caused him to have a headache and is now convinced he has only days to live
Simon Bowers has been a GP in South Liverpool for 13 years. He comes to us each month to talk health. Follow him on Twitter @SIbowers
Simon Bowers has been a GP in South Liverpool for 13 years. He comes to us each month to talk health. Follow him on Twitter @SIbowers
HEALTH Secretary Jeremy Hunt came under fire just recently for allegedly advising parents to use Google if their children have a rash, to check how serious it may be. Now, hands up, who hasn’t used Google when they are feeling ill? Not many people I bet. It’s human instinct to turn to the internet in so many parts of life. How to cook something, which washing machine to buy, where to go on holiday – so it’s only natural that if you or a relative is feeling ill you’ll Google that too. This said, there’s a common conception that Googling illness symptoms is the worst thing you can do, since inevitably, the loud world of the internet will tell you the worst case scenario and your leg/arm/head is about to fall off. In actual fact, the internet can be a useful tool to help put your mind at rest of point you in the right direction. If you are going to Google it – at least make sure you’re looking at the right websites! Nhs.co.uk is a really useful tool and will give you information about local services to you, from GP practices to hospital and dentists as well as many other services. Patient.co.uk is also useful. There may be a few ‘out there’ results when you input your symptoms but it’s one of the few evidence-based sites on the internet. I think it’s OK to track symptoms using the internet – although the internet can’t give you the type of advice that a doctor or nurse can. Many websites throw out some pretty unlikely diagnoses, for example, it’s very unlikely that if you’re a 32-year-old non-smoker and have had a cough for two weeks that you have lung cancer. If you are genuinely suspicious that you need to see a doctor, you should make a GP appointment without hesitation. If you are going to get Googling though, here are some tips; Spot the right site; * Any advice likely to be suspect if the site is trying to sell you anything (e.g copper bracelets for arthritis) * Don’t trust websites that are attached to specific campaign groups, they very often only give their side of the argument. * Try and stick to UK based websites – various health care systems and other cultures have different approaches. * If you have a long term condition and a website tells you that you can cure it they are wrong – if it sounds too good to be true it definitely is. * If there are loads of adverts and pop ups on the website, it is likely not going to give you the best advice – they just want web traffic to make more money on selling ad space. * If there are a lot of dramatic testimonials from people about the interventions available, I would avoid it The internet is a great tool – but it needs to be used responsibly and cautiously, particularly when it comes to health advice. I’ll say it again – if you have a moment of doubt call your GP practice and make an appointment. Welcome Focus On Mental Health  There has recently been a report published saying that three quarters of people with mental health problems don’t receive any help at all. The good news is that the government has promised £1billion towards assisting with poor mental health per year by 2020. For far too long in this country we haven’t regarded mental and physical health to be equally important. Hopefully this will help to end that. In Liverpool we have already increased our investment in children and adults’ mental health services; things are improving but we know there’s a long way to go. Dear Doctor I’ve been off work with stress for two months and my doctor says I should only go back t work if I can see an occupational health professional. My employer, a well-known supermarket chain, says they don’t offer this but they are pressuring me to get back to work. What should I do? Suzanne D, Walton Dear Suzanne I’m sorry to hear you’ve not been well. It’s important to think about whether it was your job which made you ill in the first place. If this is the case, I’d advise you not to go back to work until your line manager knows that you think it’s due to work and that it’s actually their responsibility as an employer to respond to this. This may include you needing an occupational health assessment. You should not feel bullied to go back to work if you aren’t ready – speak you to your GP for guidance and support. Your employers’ duty under law is to facilitate your return to work whilst you have a responsibility to do what you can to get yourself fit for work.  Myths Copper bracelets will take the pain of arthritis away There’s no evidence that copper has any qualities for easing pain. Copper is just copper and any improvement would be a placebo effect. You’d be better off saving your money and buying yourself some nice jewellery instead. Going outside with wet hair will make you catch a cold Not true. As reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, getting chilled does not increase the risk of infection of catching the cold virus.