Happy spring everyone! The tulips and daffodils have come out to greet us and UBC’s summer semester is almost in session. Things around campus will gradually slow down over the coming months as preparations begin again for the fall.
In speaking to colleagues in past years, this seems to be a time when staff and faculty feel that they have more time to invest in their own health and self-care. With this in mind, I would like to share a cautionary suggestion for improving our collective health literacy this spring: Just say no to search engine diagnosis: Avoid Dr. Google.
Outside of my role at UBC, I am a volunteer contraception counsellor at a local sexual health clinic. I would describe a large majority of the clients that I meet as “Googlers”. These clients come into the office, their brains overflowing in information, convinced of a diagnosis and terrified by chat rooms filled with side effects and worst-case scenarios.
It is important to know that I whole-heartedly believe in arming ourselves with information and in using the internet as a tool to empower, to learn and as a way to facilitate support networks with respect to health. It is great to do research before meeting with a health care provider or to understand how a type of medication works; however, obtaining this information from a trusted and validated source is paramount.
Reading information from un-validated sources can lead to inaccurate self-diagnosis, and high anxiety provoked by reading horror stories about medication side effects. This anxiety can be further elevated by often frustrated, first-person experiences that are more of a venting opportunity than practical solution. The truth is, everyone’s body is different, and has the possibility of reacting differently depending a myriad of factors.
Research shows that we are far more likely to recover quickly and successfully if we are positive about our outcomes. Turning to Dr. Google can in fact raise our anxieties instead of assuaging them. We read about unsuccessful outcomes and possible eventualities and we convince ourselves we have all of the answers. As humans, we have a tendency to catastrophize (try saying that three times fast). We assume the worst and can become unwilling to take a second opinion, even when it comes from a medical professional. This type of information can actually hurt our recovery time and quality of life through the treatment process.
The best advice that I can suggest to clients and our readers is this: don’t Google when it comes to your health.
- Turn instead to reputable sites run by governmental organizations, well-established non-profits and health authorities.
- Make sure the information presented to you is cited and sourced.
- Look for the number of participants in a drug study instead of the percentage of participants (if 50% of people had side effects, but there were only 10 people in the study, that is not a large enough sample to be conclusive).
There is nothing wrong with wanting a second opinion or to look into a recommended treatment, but turning to specialists, other doctors or trusted sources can assist with confusion, doubt and anxiety.
This month, I invite you to raise your health literacy by finding trusted and well documented sources of health information. When you do, bookmark them so that you can easily find them again without having to ask Dr. Google.
All my best,
Check out this new way to connect with your family physician or GP, online!
Medeo: Wherever you are, you can quickly and easily visit your BC doctor. Connect via computer, iOS or Android devices. Services available in BC with a valid Care Card.
Agarwal, M., Dalal, A., Agarwal, D., et al. (1995). Positive life orientation and recovery from myocardial infarction. Social Science & Medicine, 40 (1), 125-130.
Lench, H. C. (2011). Personality and health outcomes: Making positive expectations a reality. Journal of Happiness Studies,12(3), 493-507.
Scheier, M., Matthews, K., Carver, C., et al. (1989). Dispositional optimism and recovery from coronary artery bypass surgery: The beneficial effects on physical and psychological well-being. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology. 57(6), 1024-1040.