PATIENTS googling their symptoms and self-medicating are posing a challenge to doctors in Bahrain, like their counterparts in others parts of the world.
Some of them do not even admit what they have done, making it difficult for the medics to treat them.
The medical practitioners have urged people not to fall prey to an overload of information on the Internet, or infodemic, some of which could be unverified, inaccurate and untrustworthy.
“The information superhighway is posing a challenge to doctors and this is true in Bahrain as in every other part of the world,” American Mission Hospital (AMH) general physician Dr Babu Ramachandran told the GDN.
“The tendency to search for everything on Google is not new, but it surged during the coronavirus pandemic, and ‘Dr Google’ appears to be impressing people more than us doctors.
“Patients come with a full diagnosis of their symptoms, while some politely disapprove of my diagnosis before gently revealing what they ‘read’ on the Internet.
“Sometimes this makes me feel helpless.”
The World Health Organisation has termed the phenomenon to blindly trust information on the Internet and start self-medicating as cyberchondria, or the IDIOT (Internet Derived Information Obstructing Treatment) syndrome.
Dr Ramachandran pointed out the dangers of recklessly believing Internet information on illnesses, adding that the brain tended to believe the worst.
“When a person has a mild chest pain, it could be a muscular pain or something else. I recommend you see a doctor rather than ‘Google’ because the latter gives you all possible causes for chest pain and it is human nature to believe the worst possible scenario; this is not healthy.”
The senior expat medic also urged people not to blame the doctor for failing to disclose medication side effects.
“Patients question us as to why we did not tell them all that is online; you must understand that most of the time such a load of information is for the drug manufacturer’s legal defence.”
KIMSHealth internal specialist Dr Ravi Srinivasan described the phenomenon as a “double-edged sword”.
“The Internet provides some information, but it is unlikely to assist patients in making treatment decisions.
“And ‘googling’ your symptoms will lead to dangerous diagnostic possibilities, increasing the patient’s anxiety. The best option is to trust your family doctor rather than ‘Dr Google’.”
The situation is even more difficult for ayurvedic doctors, according to alternate medicine practitioner Dr Devi Muralidas.
She emphasised the “risky trend” of people willing to “try” herbal medicines because of perceived lower side-effects.
“We see an increase in cyberchondria post-pandemic, and it is greater than in English medicine because there is less fear of side effects for herbal products,” she said.
“We see a risky trend of assuming that all herbal items are safe, and this is a challenge.
“We also see that when there is a complication from such recklessness, people rush to allopathy doctors, making ayurveda the villain.
“During Covid-19, people at home had time to ‘google’ and, surprisingly, even educated people blindly trust the Internet.”
During the pandemic, one of the most sought-after spice was turmeric which is said to boost immunity due to its anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties.
“However, taking it multiple times on a regular basis may not be healthy and the effects vary from person to person,” said Dr Muralidas.
“In any case, side effects cannot be ruled out – long-term use of turmeric can cause blood thinning, as can many other similar items.
“Before taking any medication, one should always consult with experts.”
Mental health professionals also expressed similar concerns, primarily about people abandoning long-term therapies and succumbing to incorrect information.
“We deal with a lot of such cases, which has increased in the current scenario,” said Child and Family Foundation Centre clinical psychologist Dr Anisha Abraham.
“People read the Internet and are convinced about what they read, unaware of the implications.
“We are open to people educating themselves and clarifying doubts from credible sources, but it is a challenge when they start to argue.
“I’ve had patients who were so disappointed that they stormed out of my office because I told them their diagnosis was incorrect.”
She also mentioned the dangers of gathering “half-baked information” online, a view backed by Bahrain-based Advanced Trauma Healing therapist Dr Feba Paul.
“Sometimes, the treatment plan is long-term with people having poor prognosis. Instead of trusting the process, they would search so much on the Internet and the information cloud would lead them to gradually drop out of therapy.
“I would say this happens to one out of every 10 patients who come for therapy.”