How accurate is Dr. Internet? In 1982 after getting my diagnosis of MS I went to “Dr. Britannica” to learn more about MS. Dr. Britannica was as far from reality as I experienced. It was an invitation to a pity party. The information I read was full of pessimism and many people told me to hang up any career plans. That was then and times have changed. Nowadays we have Dr. Internet. Like my experience with Dr. Britannica, BEWARE!!
While many may believe that the internet has made it easier for us to discover what is wrong when we are sick., new research suggests that using the internet to diagnose illnesses could in fact be a very bad way of getting appropriate medical treatment. It is not limited to MSers or people who believe they have MS.
A recent study by Hong Kong University of Science and Technology has shown that “Dr. Internet” most often results in one of two types of misdiagnosis:
1. self-positivity, where we overestimate the risks of falling prey to an illness, and
2. self-negativity, where the opposite is the case.
The researchers gave college students information on various diseases. They told the students how common they are among the whole population (base rate) and the details of one specific person's health profile (case risk). If that person was a stranger, the test subject would tend to rely on the base rate, using a statistical approach. However if the subject was asked to judge their own risk of exposure to disease, the participants primarily used the case risk. The study reminds people that if they rely on Dr. Internet for medical help, they are limited by their own biases as well as the haphazard nature of the web.
I think that this web site provides information not found in textbooks because MSers are not textbooks. Science wants to break things down and organize them. There is no “textbook” when it comes to MS. It continues to befuddle researchers because the cure is still elusive.
The internet can be a great place to start, but it should be used “gingerly”, I think.