Drawbacks of seeking a medical diagnosis online include incorrect self-diagnosis based off irrelevant information and changing self-perception, explains DualDiagnosis.org. Online symptom checkers tend to be both comprehensive and conservative, encouraging users to seek unnecessary medical attention and leading to more medical bills, reports the Harvard Gazette. Seeking online information for a diagnosis is ineffective when psychiatric symptoms are involved, as users cannot accurately evaluate their own mental state, explains Psychology Today.
Online symptom checkers and web searches frequently juxtapose the most common causes of a symptom with its least common causes, notes DualDiagnosis.org. For example, a search for "headache" returns equal information about brain tumor and caffeine withdrawal. However, caffeine withdrawal and other lifestyle factors, such as a lack of sleep or eye strain, are far more likely to cause headaches.
When users see information about the worst-case scenario, they are likely to believe that the information applies to them, according to DualDiagnosis.org. For example, people with headaches who read about the possibility of brain tumors are likely to believe they have brain tumors. Users may feel sad or begin making lifestyle changes based off the erroneous idea they are sick.
Others may forgo doctor's appointments and medical care, instead relying on their self-diagnoses, explains Pew Research Center. While nearly a third of Americans diagnosed themselves using online tools, about half spoke to a doctor about their concerns. Only 41 percent of the self-diagnosers had their diagnosis confirmed by a medical doctor.
Seeking medical information online and using online symptom checkers may provide a basic overview of relevant conditions, but these tools lack the nuance of an in-person diagnosis, explains Psychology Today. Additionally, patients are likely to ignore or conflate medical and psychiatric symptoms, increasing the chances of self-misdiagnosis.