Though your doctor can provide much in the way of education about your health, the burden of determining whether or not a symptom is in need of treatment or diagnosis can fall into the hands of the patient. However, this can be a catch-22—self-diagnosis via Internet message boards and medical sites can be just as detrimental to a woman’s health as ignoring her symptoms completely, especially if she makes her own decisions about her care or treatment without consulting with her doctor. This leads to a problem that many doctors are finding it difficult to solve.
We want patients to be informed about their bodies and their health; however, we don’t want our patients to think that self-diagnosis is the way to go when it comes to caring for their bodies long-term. It is important to consider how women use message boards and medical websites to supplement their own understanding about their health. One study done on women in Japan showed that gynecological cancer survivors were more likely to seek treatment after searching online and connecting with others who had those same symptoms.
This proves that the Internet can be a great tool for assessing whether or not a symptom is normal—after all, it can be easy to dismiss something as natural without taking into account that it very well may not be. What seems to be a minor issue can easily be a symptom of something much greater. When women use the technology at their disposal to educate themselves about their health and use that education to open a dialogue with their doctor about whether or not they are in need of diagnostics or treatment, they are taking a proactive step toward bettering their health. Every woman should be aware of the importance of educating themselves about their bodies—but it is just as important that women realize self-diagnosis can be dangerous. Part of educating yourself is understanding that you are learning to communicate with your doctor, and aren’t trying to play “doctor” yourself.
– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.