Should I take online medical advice from Google?

online medical advice in Australia

All of us are guilty of this. When feeling unwell, the first thing we tend to do is turn to Dr. Google to analyse our symptoms. One page leads to another and suddenly we’re convinced there’s something seriously wrong with our bodies and we are about to die. This results in anxiety, undue stress and worry.

While it is very easy to access information on Google, it doesn’t always mean that it will be correct. There are a lot of factors that go into diagnosing a medical condition, such as lab results, medical history, both yours and your family’s, and a physical investigation. In many medical communities, it is a running joke that if you Google literally any symptom, even something as minor as a runny nose, you will be told you have cancer and are dying. In fact, this issue is so prevalent that there is now even an official term for it: cyberchondria, or when you experience increased levels of anxiety due to health-related searches.

This is why most medical professionals try to dissuade patients from Googling their symptoms. And with technological advancements, there is a much easier and much more reliable option today. This is seeking online medical advice in Australia from a registered online GP. What this means is that if you’re apprehensive about some symptoms you are experiencing, you can simply log on to an online healthcare provider’s app, book in an online appointment with a GP and discuss your concerns all in the comfort of your own home. But instead of a standard list of symptoms that will have you convinced you’re experiencing all of them, you will get targeted advice from a professional.

Research has found that over 40% of Australians look to Google to self-treat medical issues, but only one-third, or 36% of them are able to receive correct medical advice. Online symptom checkers have become all the rage, but these are very rarely accurate, as they lack the background information required to correctly diagnose a medical issue. Moreover, they are not regulated by the government, which brings to question their authenticity and quality.

If you are experiencing symptoms that are concerning you, but can’t find the time to visit a traditional doctor, an online GP is a much better option than Googling your symptoms. Here’s why:

Online GPs are real doctors

A major concern many critics have of online GPs is that they are not real doctors. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Doctors working for online healthcare services are AHPRA and RACGP registered, something you can easily check by looking up their registration numbers on the respective websites. The only difference between an online GP and your regular GP is that an online GP is much easier to access, and you can get professional advice in a hassle-free way.

Accurate information and diagnosis

Your online GP will work much like a regular GP, and will ask about the symptoms you are experiencing, your medical history and your family’s medical history. If required, they may recommend some lab tests, after which they can come to an accurate diagnosis. An online symptom checker, on the other hand, only depends upon only one of the above steps—the symptoms you are experiencing—to make a diagnosis which may not always be correct.

Get the right help at the right time

On the other end of the spectrum, online symptom checkers may also have you believing something isn’t serious enough to be checked out when it actually is. For some medical issues, even a slight delay in getting professional help could have dire consequences. A doctor, on the other hand, has the necessary expertise required to be able to make the right diagnosis at the right time, and get you the help you need before it’s too late.

Doctors spend years in college and training for a reason

Finally, no matter how good you are at Google searching, you will never match up to a professional who has spent years upon years mastering his craft unless you are a doctor yourself. Medicine is tricky, and doctors use their years of experience and the training they received to come to a diagnosis. The best thing about online healthcare services is that you’re actually chatting and having a video consultation with a real GP, not a bot. If you’re unsure about anything, you can go back and ask for more details, unlike an online symptom checker, or even Google, which will just send you down a rabbithole of anxiety and trouble.

When it comes to your health, don’t take any chances and immediately book an appointment with an online GP if you’re experiencing symptoms that concern you. This is especially great if you work a full-time job or are a single parent with very little time on your hands.