Knowledge is power, but is self-diagnosis empowering or endangering?


The current generation is surrounded by large amounts of information and knowledge on almost any topic of interest, including a variety of online symptom-checkers encouraging self-diagnosis.

The public health sector is working to enable people to make health-conscious decisions through education to potentially save healthcare costs in the long-run. However, will self-diagnosis inadvertently increase costs and endanger the individual?

Healthcare systems face many issues, including long emergency room (ER) waiting times and rising costs. Discouraging people from seeking unnecessary care and educating the population on making health-conscious decisions in their everyday lives can help lessen the magnitude of the problem. In addition, many individuals are becoming more conscious of their time, turning to online symptom-checkers to decide whether or not they should seek further medical help.

During influenza season, individuals can often be treated at home with plenty of rest, fluids, and over-the-counter medication. As more people use online symptom-checkers and understand that they have contracted the flu, unnecessary ER visits can be avoided unless symptoms progress and require further medical attention. Online symptom-checkers can  encourage individuals to seek medical attention as early as possible when presented with symptoms that may indicate a disease such as skin cancer, increasing survival rates.

On the other hand, when individuals are presented with a variety of symptoms that result in a number of diagnoses from the online symptom-checker, they may choose to wait until symptoms progress further before seeking medical attention or diagnose themselves with the wrong disease. Waiting until symptoms progress may result in further complications and / or an adverse event that requires more treatment than if it had been diagnosed earlier. A false diagnosis by the individual can also often lead to the same result if they do not seek medical help earlier.

Alternatively, if individuals diagnose themselves before seeing their primary care provider, this may mean they have a harder time accepting a professional diagnosis, which could hinder treatment compliance. Individuals may continue to seek multiple opinions to find one that agrees with their self-diagnosis, potentially delaying early treatment.

With a vast amount of knowledge available, online symptom-checkers are another source of health-related information that can potentially avoid unnecessary ER visits. However, individuals should be cautious about fully trusting what they read and seek medical attention when experiencing any abnormalities in their body.