Doctors everywhere have the same story: a patient comes in with a full rundown of just exactly what their medical issue is before the doctor has even had a chance to speak, much less check the patient or run tests. 

Self-diagnosis is often a burden on patients and practitioners, often causing more problems than it solves. So how do we as healthcare professionals help reduce patient anxiety and get more people into the hospital who actually need help?

It turns out that money, anxiety, and time can all be saved by employing medical computers and other technology to fields like telehealth and mobile clinic deployment. Plus, these methods also fight the other cause of self-diagnosis: shrinking access to healthcare.

What is Cyberchondria?

Jokes about going to WebMD and finding out you have every disease on the planet are common for a reason —  it’s nearly impossible to resist the temptation of self-diagnosis. 

Part fear, part curiosity, this irresistible impulse has a new name: cyberchondria. A kind of portmanteau of “cyberspace” and “hypochondria,” the term was coined in 2001 to describe the new phenomena. Ironically, this new concept is increasing the burden on healthcare rather than helping. 

A significant portion of users with cyberchondria only end up making their anxiety worse, which not only clogs the system with people who aren’t actually sick, but anxiety and stress can create their own health problems. 

Research from the Imperial College of London found that 20% of appointments with the National Health Service in the UK were booked by hypochondriacs fueled by medical anxiety and cyberchondria. 

Self-Diagnosis Apps / Symptom Checkers

Patients have already embraced self-diagnosis and symptom checker apps and websites in droves. It’s no surprise, given the very real spread of cyberchondria and the fact that we have a computer in our pockets at all times. 

Unfortunately, these symptom checkers aren’t as accurate as users might hope. A study of 23 symptom checkers in the United States, United Kingdom, Poland, and the Netherlands revealed less-than-stellar numbers. It appears symptom checkers did the worst in diagnosing symptoms and in triage / treatment suggestions. Only 35% of diagnoses were correct on the first try, and the correct diagnosis was only in the top 20 listed results around half the time. 

And, perhaps to no surprise, symptom-checkers were more likely to recommend a visit to the doctor based on symptom analysis even when self-treatment would be completely effective for the problem. 

While these symptom checkers may give some patients a sense of ease, they’re only promoting anxiety in some and are filling up doctor’s office with patients who’d be better off with a bowl of chicken soup and some bed rest.

Healthcare Access and Mobile Clinics

Other than cyberchondria and pure curiosity, what else drives patients toward self-diagnosis?

Sadly, one of the most common reasons that people reach out to the internet instead of their doctor is due to a lack of healthcare access. In the United States, there are around 30 million people without health insurance, turning these symptom checkers into a real necessity.

This is why it’s so important for hospitals and governments to support initiatives like mobile clinics for low-income areas. These mobile clinics are usually housed in a van of some kind and are outfitted with a host of medical equipment and staffed by doctors, nurses, and other clinicians. These mobile clinics are often part of an effort to help both insure patients using connected medical tablets, and also to treat those who may not have adequate insurance.

Around 2,000 of these mobile clinics exist in the United States, 42% of which offer primary care. The rest of those mobile clinics generally host preventative screenings or dental services. They’ve also been known to help local underserved populations connect to other social aid structures as well, improving overall patient lifestyle and greater outcomes.  

Using Screens for Human Interaction

Even for those who have insurance, physically getting to the doctor can be difficult. The elderly often have mobility issues, adding extra burden and frustration to their relatively frequent trips to the doctor. Disabled folks have the same issue, of course. 

And consider too the rural market — when the nearest hospital is an hour away, or on the other side of a mountain, patients are more likely to just shrug off health issues for all but the most serious symptoms. 

This is where telehealth comes in! Instead of having patients turn to a cold page of text to sort out their medical problems on their own, patients can use that same screen to see and talk to an actual expert. This requires no small upfront investment from healthcare groups, of course — data systems need to be upgraded, medical computers with built-in cameras and more secure logins installed, and staff (and patients) need to be trained in its use. 

However, the benefits to patient access are undeniable. Instead of being stuck Googling their symptoms or installing a Self-Diagnosis app, they can speak to an actual expert and get their situation sorted without horrendous wait times or difficult trips to the hospital. 

Self-Diagnosis Simply Isn’t Effective

While the idea of an automated digital doctor seems like a huge timesaver, in the end it may be causing patients more trouble than its worth. And, they often end up contributing to longer wait times and more overwhelmed doctors. 

To learn more about implementing telehealth and mobile clinics, including what kind of medical computers and tablets you’ll need, contact Cybernet today.