October 2, 2023

Sodiq Ojuroungbe 

Medical experts have cautioned Nigerians against taking medical advice from the internet, warning that many health reports posted online are not backed by scientific evidence.

The experts noted that it is very risky to take healthcare decisions based on information gleaned from a google search on the internet or social media posts without consulting physicians trained to diagnose and treat health conditions, noting that those engaging in such habits are taking serious health risks.

According to the experts, only medical doctors are trained to give medical advice as well as diagnose and treat health conditions. 

The medical doctors, they said, carry out evidence-based actions on patients before prescribing treatments, stressing that online reports cannot replace the duty and obligations of medical experts. 

Speaking with Reportr Door HealthWise, the experts, the Director of Public Health in Ogun State, Dr. Festus Soyinka, and a medical doctor, Dr. David Ogunsaya noted that treatments and prescriptions by medical experts are always supported by backed by clinical and scientific evidence. 

Dr. Ogunsanya explained that many people do not know that some ailments that have the same symptoms are completely different and cannot be treated with the same medication or in the same way.  

Dr. Ogunsanya stressed that it will be difficult for patients to differentiate these health conditions by simply looking at symptoms, especially when they strictly depend on articles published online for guidance without consulting a doctor. 

He also stated that some drugs have serious side effects and should not be used without proper medical guidance and diagnosis which only a physician is trained to ensure. 

He said, “There is a reason we go to doctors for healthcare. Doctors are the experts, and patients are not. After patients look up their symptoms or assume that they have a particular condition, they might take a step further by trying to treat themselves on their own. One way they could do this is by taking over-the-counter medications or trying an at-home treatment to help whatever issue they think they’re suffering from. 

“Taking ineffective medicine or more drugs than necessary won’t solve anything. People will suffer from the same ailments unless they take the essential medication. In some cases, taking the wrong medicine could even make conditions worse or cause bigger problems.

“Individuals should talk to a doctor if they don’t know what their symptoms mean. And they should always consult their doctors before taking any medicine that they don’t normally take. This is even more necessary if they already take other medicines.

“Some drugs have negative reactions in combination with each other. Therefore, it is only a doctor that can inform a patient that a medication is safe for them.”

Speaking in the same vein, Dr. Soyinka cautioned against self-diagnosis, stressing that patients taking advice from the internet can complicate an ailment without knowing. 

He said, “The medical professionals carry out evidence-based action. Whatever you see that doctors are doing in medical science has been proven and supported by evidence. So, if people choose to take medical advice from the internet and act on such, they could end up harming themselves even more.

“I know that each individual will be able to see the result. What we know is that it is better to go to the appropriate places for our health issues.” 

According to a study published online by the Journal of Medical Internet Research titled ‘Patients’Use of the Internet to Find Reliable Information about minor ailments’, little is known about the exact process of how patients search for medical information on the internet and what they retrieve, adding that there is especially a paucity of literature on browsing for information on minor ailments, a term used for harmless diseases that are very common in the general population and thus have a significant impact on health care.

The study which has 1,372 survey participants note in its findings that most patients use a symptom-based approach to search for information online.

It also noted that if patients expect the potential diagnosis to be severe, they tend to use a hypothesis verification strategy more often and are, therefore, prone to certain forms of bias.

“In addition, self-diagnosing accuracy is related to younger age, the symptom scenario, and the use of high-quality websites. We should find ways to guide patients toward search strategies and websites that may more likely lead to accurate decision-making,” the researchers said.

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