I haven’t googled to confirm this — but I suspect that the second-most googled subject in the world is the medical problem (the first, of course, is our respective names). The internet is full of medical advice, which is why doctors tell us to stop reading up on our symptoms.
There’s an old story about a doctor’s assistant coming into his waiting room and announcing to the patients, ‘Please do not discuss your symptoms with one another. It is confusing the doctor.’ The internet is today’s waiting room, waiting to confuse both doctor and patients.
‘According to the internet…’ is probably the worst thing you can tell a doctor. It’s a conversation killer. It means you have tried Dr Google’s advice and have come to the human doctor only because it hasn’t worked for you. Self-diagnosis is the bane of the trained physician who spent years studying medicine, making sacrifices, giving up on luxuries and treating rich and poor without discriminating. And now he has to undo the effects of internet advice before focusing on his own methods.
At least one clinic I know has the following board in the waiting room: ‘Patient will be charged extra for annoying the doctor with self-diagnosis gotten off the internet.’
Many of us may not annoy the doctor, but who among us has not checked anyway? I know the moment I have a headache I rush to check if it could be a developing tumour.
A stomach ache has greater possibilities for the imagination — both ours and the internet’s. We know the names of rare diseases, rare doctors, rare treatments — enough to make us stress out. A head cold inspires us to check how much longer we have to live. This is natural. Weird, but natural.
According to the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper, the most googled symptom in the US is ‘stress’, followed in no particular order by fever, poop colour, stomach ache and morning sickness. Stressed, said the philosopher, is merely ‘desserts spelt backwards.’ Such profundity merely adds to the stress (which, as anyone knows, is merely ‘sserts’ spelt backwards).
The significant difference between the internet and the family doctor is this: Dr Google never tells you, ‘Take a couple of aspirins and call me in the morning.’ On the other hand, no doctor to whom you are describing your symptoms suddenly gets distracted and tells you about the London fire of 1666 or how the tsetse fly got its name. Google does that. Often the thirst for knowledge (and tidbits of useless information) drives out the need for getting a headache attended to.
For many years, doctors had computers. Now computers have doctors — and we are paying the price for it.