Self-diagnosis on the rise, use of online medical information rampant

Experts advise people to consult medical professionals to avoid misdiagnosis 
Self-diagnosis on the rise, use of online medical information rampant

BENGALURU:  Increasingly, humans are indulging in a tendency to relate with information available on the internet and self-diagnose ailments they don’t actually suffer from, say doctors.

Dr Latha K, professor at the Department of Mental Health Education, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (Nimhans), described this phenomenon as the ‘Barnum Effect’, and said it creates a cognitive bias in a person’s mind. Drawing parallels to reading horoscopes, she said people believe a personality description that applies specifically to them and is surprisingly accurate, though it is simply a generic and open-ended piece of information.

“The rising incidence of self-diagnosis has resulted in increasing cases of misdiagnosis,” said Dr Prabha Chandra, Dean (behavioural sciences), Nimhans. She gave an example of a person who constantly loses focus or procrastinates, and who tends to overanalyse a situation and diagnose oneself with Attention Deficit Health Disorder (ADHD). In reality, multiple factors can contribute to a lack of focus or unwillingness to work. “People read superficial symptoms online and diagnose themselves with serious ailments,” she added. 

With social media, the amount of information available online has multiplied exponentially. Even trained professionals face difficulty in consuming and sharing genuine content, Dr Latha said. “During the pandemic, misinformation shared on social media, remedies for treating Covid on Whatsapp groups, and false information about vaccines led to major vaccine hesitancy among people,” she added. On the flip side, doctors said social media was successful in disseminating information during Covid and other mass campaigns like polio vaccine, family planning and tobacco use. However, they advised people to consult medical professionals rather than self-diagnose incorrectly.

At a recently organised Nimhans workshop, professors from the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media (IIJNM) highlighted how it becomes difficult to access verified information in the sea of online content. They advised people to use tools like reverse image search, Google Lens and other fact-check tools to verify the authenticity of an image and video content circulated online.

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