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Sniffles? Log on for cure

When 31-year-old graphic designer Meghna Vira feels her body temperature rising or a cold setting in, she immediately logs on to the Internet and reads up on the possible causes.

india Updated: Feb 01, 2009 00:57 IST
Neha Bhayana

When 31-year-old graphic designer Meghna Vira feels her body temperature rising or a cold setting in, she immediately logs on to the Internet and reads up on the possible causes.

Sometimes she scares herself silly — once she thought she had leukaemia because her haemoglobin count was too low — but often she finds it more convenient than scheduling an appointment with her doctor.

“It’s so quick and I get to know much more than my doctor will ever reveal,” said the Ghatkopar resident.

Vira is among a growing breed of netizens to seek information on medical problems ranging from constipation to cancer on the Internet. And thanks to them, a host of specialised health websites in India are getting more hits than ever before.

The Manipal Symptom Checker, which is just 15-days-old, gets more than 650 hits a day. When Bangalore’s Manipal hospital launched the online health information tool and promised that their doctors would respond within 48 hours they had no idea that so many queries would pour in. “More than 130 people have e-mailed us specific queries,” said Prashun Chatterjee,
sales head at Manipal.

One of India’s oldest surviving health portals, www.medindia.net, gets over five lakh hits a month.

When it was launched in 1999, more than 90 per cent of the users were from US and UK. But now almost 40 per cent of the traffic is from India.

Chennai-based urologist Dr Sunil Shroff, who founded Medindia, said the increase in Indian users showed that there is a “movement towards self-care.”

Mumbai-based paediatrician Dr Ira Shah and others who run www.pediatriconcall.com, which offers free consultation to two lakh registered users on everything from diaper rashes to thyroid disorders, have also noticed a steep rise in number of queries.

“In 2002, we used to get around 150 queries daily. Now we get more than 500 a day,” said Dr Pratiksha Furia.

Over 1.5 lakh mothers have also registered their infants’ details with the Vaccine Reminder, which sends them an e-mail 15 days before the next shot is due.

And it is not just websites that connect users to doctors that are getting overwhelming traffic. www.patientIndia.com,
which enables users to compare drug prices and save money, gets six lakh hits a month as compared to 45,000 hits when it was launched in October 2007.

Founder Sumo Banerjee said: “These days people are much smarter, they are not worried about antagonising their doctor.”And even doctors don’t seem to mind having more informed patients.

“It is a healthy trend. It puts pressure on the doctor to update his knowledge,” said Bombay Hospital staff physician Dr Ashish Tiwari.

Dr Khusrav Bajan, who heads the emergency care at Hinduja Hospital, said there is a downside of a patient being “over-read”.

“Occasionally we come across patients who think they are smarter than us because they have read up a lot on the Internet,” Dr Bajan said.

“Some websites and blogs put up information which is misleading or has no scientific backing.”