Calling Dr Internet: Could self-diagnosis be costing lives?

25
Nov
2015

web_searchingA UK health charity has expressed deep concern following new data which reveals the alarming use of online self-diagnosis.

The British Dental Health Foundation believes an over-reliance on websites, particularly online symptom checkers, could lead to delays in the diagnosis and treatment of life threatening diseases such as mouth cancer.

Four in ten people1 questioned by the charity say they prefer turning to the internet to investigate their symptoms, while less than one in three (31 per cent) would see their doctor or dentist first.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, said: “The internet can undoubtedly be a fantastic source for information but it would be highly ill-advised to place too much reliance on what we read online. Incorrect advice, biased agendas, invalid sources and our own mis-interpretation regarding what we read and search for could lead to potentially dangerous results.

“I went on a well-known online diagnostic website today and searched for ‘white patches in the mouth’, one of the major symptoms of mouth cancer. The only diagnosis it suggested was for thrush.

“White patches in the mouth, alongside red patches, non-healing mouth ulcers and unusual lumps in the head and neck area are the main signs of mouth cancer, as well as having many other causes the least of which is thrush. Being given a misdiagnosis of these online may lead to a delay in visiting the dentist and receiving timely treatment.

“With mouth cancer, early diagnosis is vital as it can dramatically improve the chances of survival from 50 to 90 per cent.

“November is Mouth Cancer Action Month and throughout the month we are asking you to be aware to any of these symptoms and to be alert for any changes in your mouth. Instead of consulting Dr Google, ensure that you visit your dentist or doctor as soon as possible if you notice anything out of the ordinary.“

Mouth Cancer Action Month, organised by the British Dental Health Foundation and sponsored by Denplan, is aiming to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer in order to get more cases caught early enough to make a difference to the chances of survival.

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Statistics show that mouth cancer rates are seeing a rapid increase, with more than 7,300 Brits now being diagnosed with the disease each year. Mouth cancer also claims far more lives than cervical and testicular cancer combined and some of this can be attributed to late diagnoses.

In the study, which aimed to analyse the UK’s knowledge and attitudes towards mouth cancer, the charity found that while the internet was the most used source for diagnosis, it was also the least trusted.

Less than one in four of us indicated that we always trust what we read on the internet while the survey found that health professionals such as doctors and dentists came on top of those who we trust. (30 per cent.)

Dr Carter added: “It is encouraging to see that there is an excellent relationship that clearly exists between ourselves and health professionals.

“While the internet is a great source of information nothing can beat the tried and tested way of seeing a professional when it comes to our health.

“It is so important to keep to regular dental check-ups and a strong level of trust between the patient and the dentist means that this is more likely to be maintained.

“A dentist can not only ensure our teeth and gums remain healthy but they also visually examine us for signs of mouth cancer – something we certainly cannot get at from logging in at home.”

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1.  Research conducted on behalf of the British Dental Health Foundation by Atomik Research, September 2015. Sample size: 2,024