You know you’ve done it.
That slight headache, a twinge in your back or weird rash has sent you straight to Google to diagnose yourself, quickly followed by mentally planning for your final expenses.
You’re not alone. Sixty-five percent of Americans turned to Dr. Google to decipher their symptoms in the last year.
But is it a good idea?
Here are two big reasons why you should think twice about Googling your symptoms.
1. The internet gives you unreliable health information
But the results should still be taken with a grain of salt.
Getting inaccurate information can cause you to worry needlessly. But that’s not all.
It can also cost you money for unnecessary visits to the doctor.
Due to their own liability issues, the sites you search for medical advice on the internet will tell you to seek the advice of a medical professional – even when it’s not needed.
2. Googling your symptoms is a privacy risk
You probably feel pretty safe putting your symptoms into that search bar. It’s just you and your computer, right?
Third-parties – as in, not you or the site you’re searching – are often aware of what you’re accessing online.
It could be entities you’re familiar with, like Facebook or Twitter, which can track your internet activity even when you’re not directly using them.
But it could also be advertising and analytics companies that you don’t know anything about.
A 2015 study found that, of 80,000 websites that contained medical information about common illnesses, 90 percent shared user data with third-parties.
Have you ever thought it was strange to see an ad for something you were recently searching show up on your Facebook page?
Though the goal of this information-gathering is to target you with relevant ads, there could be some serious down-sides.
- Embarrassment. When you search for something private on a shared computer, whether at home or at work, you run the risk of your fellow users seeing ads related to your search.
- Getting hacked. Your data profiles that various companies have collected may not be separate from your personal identifying information. Additional third-parties may not have great security on their end, leaving that info vulnerable to anyone with a bit of internet-savvy. They could potentially get enough information on you to steal your medical identity.
- Harassment. Even looking up a legitimate medical issue could have adverse results. You could end up on a mailing list for lawyers who are looking to cash in on people with specific medical conditions.
It’s possible to keep yourself safe when you’re googling your symptoms or doing anything else on the internet.
There are a number of apps that can block third-parties from getting your information, as well as websites that effectively hide your identity and don’t save your search history.
Here are two examples:
- Duck Duck Go is a search engine that doesn’t track or share any information about your searches.
- Disconnect is an app that prevents third-parties from gaining access to your private info.
Save yourself the hassle
When it comes right down to it, googling your symptoms isn’t worth the potential dangers.
From worrying for no reason to the wrong person getting ahold of your personal information, the risks aren’t worth the potential “benefit” of attempting to diagnose yourself.
If you have an issue that is bothersome and doesn’t resolve quickly on its own, schedule an appointment with your doctor.
You can trust that your information is safe with him.
You’re more likely to turn to your doctor for help if you have adequate health insurance.
If you don’t, it’s time to set up an appointment with an independent insurance professional. He can help you review your current Marketplace plan and guide you to one that better suits your needs.
Are you a symptom-googler? Has it caused you to worry unnecessarily?