Doctors advise caution when looking up health information online, which can lead to lots of stress if you mistakenly associate your symptoms with serious disease. But using the internet might not be all bad, suggests a Harvard study published March 29, 2021, by JAMA Network Open.
Researchers asked 5,000 people to test their diagnostic skills in an online survey. Each participant read a randomly assigned case describing a health complaint (such as a viral infection or a stroke).
Participants had to imagine a loved one was experiencing those symptoms and guess the diagnosis, and then look up the symptoms online and make another diagnosis.
Participants also had to figure out the next step (such calling 911) and note their anxiety levels. Researchers found that people got the diagnosis right about half the time before searching online, and improved the diagnosis slightly after going online -- although internet information occasionally misled them.
Searching online didn't make them anxious or cause them to choose the wrong next step. So searching for health information online can be helpful. But stick to reliable sources, such as Harvard Health Publishing (www.health.harvard.edu).