4:36pm

Wed February 9, 2011
Blog Of The Nation

Social Media Medicine

Have your ever Googled yourself into a panic?

A friend of mine recently got some bad news from the doctor. There was something in her back and surgery would be necessary. She didn't know what the "something" was or how extensive the surgery would be. So naturally, she started Googling and hence, started to expect the worst.

Something similar happened to me when I had some weird health issues a few years back. Click around on webmd.com or the Mayo Clinic site for a few minutes and you can confuse yourself into thinking you have a some sort of terrible ailment when it's just a cold.

An article in the February issue of Scientific American explains that these late-night panic searches are actually changing the way medicine is practiced. The piece talks about an unproved surgical treatment for multiple sclerosis that came into high demand in 2009 after news about it started circulating on various social networking sites. Though doctors were skeptical, and even the surgeon who developed the technique concluded it needed more testing, thousands of patients began requesting the procedure.

Aaron Miller, a professor of neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and chief medical officer for the National MS Society says:

You can never blame people for being excited about something that sounds like good news, especially when they have a serious disease. I think these social-media sites can have a positive function in that they allow patients to discuss research and share their experiences. They have a very major risk in leading patients to embark on therapeutic courses that are not necessarily appropriate for them or haven't been established as being scientifically valid.

This reminds me of that weird episode of Glee where Tina — who at the moment is dating Artie, who is in a wheelchair — does some googling and finds all of these revolutionary medical techniques that give Artie hope of walking and lead him have this daydream:

So, as the old saying (that I just made up) goes, "Be careful what you search for." There's a chance you could e-diagnose yourself with hypochondria! Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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