With the introduction of online symptom checkers, many people are using the web to diagnose anything from a cold to cancer, but nothing replaces a trip to your doctor. However, an online consultation can provide useful information and help self-diagnosis for minor issues or whilst waiting for an appointment.
If you have a small health issue you feel does not require professional attention, you may be able to get the advice you need, and even a prescription, without leaving the house.
Limitations of online symptom checkers
The amount of medical information available online is astonishing, but for every useful piece of information you will find a large number of inaccuracies. You may find quick answers to medical questions you have, but can you really rely on this information to treat your condition?
The majority of medical conditions cannot be addressed solely by using an online symptom checker, although the internet can be helpful in providing you with information about a condition you have been diagnosed with. It can give you background info on what may be causing your symptoms so that you can ask your GP the right questions. However, rarely will you be able to treat a medical condition, especially one requiring medication, using only online information.
Online symptom checkers have no way of showing which symptoms are the most significant to the condition in question. They may however be able to help determine whether you need to head to A&E, see an out of hours doctor or whether you’re OK to just book the next available appointment.
Why an online consultation?
Online consultations are useful for a range of minor medical conditions, and a limited number of medications can be safely be prescribed after the consultation. There are some conditions in which only an online consultation is required for diagnosis and treatment. These include:
- Travel medicines
- Hair loss
- Hay fever
- Period delay
- Acid reflux
- Eczema and dry skin
To carry out an online consultation the patient is provided with a comprehensive questionnaire to fill out. The answers to the questionnaire are then evaluated by a doctor to provide a diagnosis and determine a suitable course of treatment. If necessary, the doctor may ask further questions to clarify any issues. All of this correspondence is done by email.
Online consultations can also be helpful when used as support for traditional face-to-face medical consultations in surgeries and clinics. An online pharmacy can supply prescription medications for certain previously diagnosed conditions.
When only a visit to the doctor will do
Medical professionals use not only their education but experience in the field to help pinpoint the cause of different symptoms. They know how to ask the right questions in order to piece together the puzzle and provide an appropriate diagnosis. If medicine were as simple as providing information online and letting people choose which path to take, the profession would be obsolete.
If you do not find definitive answers to your questions or the option for an online consultation for your set of symptoms, it is probably because your condition requires a face-to-face consultation.
Most prescription medicines cannot be safely supplied solely online. This is why reputable online pharmacies such as Dr. Fox only provide online consultations to address smaller health conditions and provide a limited range of medications.
The next time you open your laptop to help you find medical information related to your latest malady, consider whether an online symptom checker, online consultation or bona fide visit with the doctor will be best.