If you’ve ever gone online to find out more about a health symptom, you’re certainly not alone. A study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that over 59 percent of Americans use the Internet as a medical resource.
Although researching symptoms like a sore throat and body aches is usually harmless; some technology that provides health information might actually cause someone to delay seeking professional help when it’s necessary.
Smartphone Applications that Evaluate Suspicious Moles
In recent years, health organizations have tried to encourage people about regularly performing skin checks to spot suspicious moles. If a mole is irregularly shaped, has a jagged border, is comprised of different colors or changes over time, health experts often recommend that it be checked by a dermatologist.
Now, applications available from Apple and Android aim to evaluate moles via a photograph. At first, this seems like it could be a way to get people to get into the habit of checking their skin regularly. While that may be true, some health professionals feel that the applications aren’t accurate enough.
If a person has a malignant mole, but they wait to get it treated, the condition might be harder to handle, particularly if it has spread to other areas of the body. This is a case where you shouldn’t feel that you must ignore smartphone applications completely, but do keep in mind that technology is not a replacement for a professional evaluation.
Connecting with Others to Cope with Health Conditions
Despite that warning, the Internet does have benefits that can help people stay healthier. For example, if you’ve recently received a diagnosis and are wondering about the next steps, the Internet offers a vast resource for connecting with others and sharing experiences.
Often, one of the most troubling parts of a new diagnosis is the fear of the unknown. Although doctors can offer insight based on their experience of caring for other patients, you’ll get a new perspective by speaking with others who are dealing with the same symptoms that you are.
Also, health problems can make you feel like you’ve lost control of your life. By speaking with others, it’s easier to maintain focus and realize that you’re not alone in the struggle.
The Internet as a Tool for Empowerment
Sometimes, after people receive a diagnosis, they are content to undergo whatever is considered to be the standard treatment, and follow the recommendations of their doctor without question. Although there is nothing wrong with that approach, other people may prefer to be more proactive by researching other treatment possibilities that haven’t yet reached mainstream medicine.
Caution is certainly needed though, because it’s easy to put almost anything up on the Internet and imply that it’s true. Take a balanced approach by doing research via the Internet, and combining it with the advice of your doctor, and others who have your condition.
Anyone who uses the Internet for health related information is taking a small risk. At the same time, cyberspace offers unparalleled access to information that can help people become more informed about their personal well-being. The next time you feel compelled to self-diagnose your symptoms, stay safe by reminding yourself that anything you uncover should never outweigh a professional opinion.
– Author Lewis West writes articles for health education blogs. Interested in healthcare? Several schools offer health administration degree programs, including Ohio University and Washington University.