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Doctors urge caution while using social media for health advice

A growing number of Americans use social media for health diagnosis.
Posted at 4:57 PM, Mar 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-13 19:04:16-04

BOISE, Idaho — It’s a rising challenge for all of us when we don’t feel quite right, turning to the internet for a little advice.

If you’re one of those people who do that, well you’re not alone. A recent study by CharityRX found that 65% of Americans seek out health advice online.

The Internet may provide an easy way to gather medical information, but not all websites or social media posts are reliable. And that can lead to all sorts of problems, from dangerous or incorrect advice to scams for products with extravagant claims.

Another problem, according to Dr. Jason Bronner with St. Luke's Health System, is that even with information from a valid site people may self-diagnose incorrectly and cause more worry than needed.

“So, they may look up ‘I have a sore throat, or I have abdominal pain’,” Dr. Bronner said, “and they may come into my office super concerned that because of their internet research, they have some kind of terrible disease or cancer or something that really is not applicable to them.”

Bronner reiterates people tend to gravitate towards the uncommon causes of their symptoms rather than the common ones creating stress or worry, often needlessly.

Keep in mind that online health information can be useful, but you must check the source. Bronner says researching online isn’t all bad, it means patients are engaged and want to know more about their symptoms.

“As a primary care doctor, I actually love it when patients go online to try and find information. It tells me that they are curious and want to figure out their health and they’re engaged and trying to learn more about why they’re feeling a certain way.”

Bronner suggests you always be skeptical of any information you learn. It's good to use as a talking point with your doctor, as a start toward diagnosis.

If you choose to look ahead, Bronner recommends looking to reputable medical websites like the ones run by the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, CDC, or St. Luke's.