With over 1,200 deaths in India and thousands testing positive, swine flu has caused quite a bit of panic. Not surprisingly then, there has been a sudden increase in the number of cyberchondriacs who blindly rely on web pages and apps that provide information on the illness. For the uninitiated, cyberchondria is the tendency of relying on the internet for health-related information and doing a self-diagnosis, which could lead to extreme anxiety.Ajay Sinha, a lawyer recently referred to an app that explained the difference between swine flu and a regular flu. When his symptoms were shown to be that of the former, he had a mini panic attack. A friend suggested that he consult his doctor. "She told me that I had neither the flu nor swine flu. I had an allergy that would sort itself out in a day or two," he says.
Experts observe a rise in the number of people blindly trusting apps and Dr Google to treat themselves.
Dr Vijay DSilva, medical director, the Asian Heart Institute, admits that it is common that the moment a patient gets admitted, relatives start looking up the Internet, or apps like WebMD. "Our body is a delicate inter-balance of processes - reading about the symptoms alone will not help you understand the details of the disease," he says.
Experts observe a rise in the number of people blindly trusting apps and Dr Google to treat themselves. "It is true that a growing number of patients are trying to treat themselves. Then often go to the doctor and hide what they did to self-medicate. A lot of the patients who interact with us tell us that they self-medicate fearing that doctors will ask them to do additional tests. In fact, 10% of WebMD's total traffic is from India, which shows that a lot of people are extremely interested in knowing more about their symptoms," he says.
The general consensus among physicians is that while it's absolutely fine to use apps to measure BMI, counting how many steps to walk or what your calorie intake should be as per your weight, but using them to treat diseases on your own is a complete no-no. "As long as they are used only for information, it is fine," says Rajan Datar of Datar Genetics (molecular testing lab for advanced diseases).
Dr Anil Ballani, consultant physician, Hinduja Healthcare Surgical, talks about a patient, who referred to a headache app instead of consulting a doctor. The result was that the patient thought she had a migraine, but it was actually a sinus headache. The patient unnecessarily took anti-migraine medicines for three months, which led to side effects like drowsiness, slow pulse and even hallucinations. "It's vital to remember that a phone app can never replace a doctor. The physician discusses the symptoms of the patients, examines them, does relevant tests and then comes to a final diagnosis. All this is lacking with an app," he says.