How many of us have surfed the web to self-diagnose before actually seeing a real doctor? Kaamran Hafeez pokes fun at this phenomenon in his witty caricature.
Published by permission of Conde Naste
How true it is. My husband recently surfed the web for an eye problem he was having before contacting his eye doctor. I surfed the web last week for a bug bite salve to stop my incessant scratching. The connected patient connects for solutions.
The whole "Dr. Google will see you now" phenomenon has made self-diagnosis just a click away.
The recent cartoon by renowned Canadian (yahoo, eh) editorial cartoonist Kaamran Hafeez, whose work has graced the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal and the Saturday Evening Post, speaks to our incessant need for instantaneous medical diagnoses via the web. And digital health tools like smart phones certainly do make it easier.
Image courtesy Kaamran Hafeez
Although the cartoon does indeed bring a smile to our faces, it also speaks to our growing reliance on technology to manage our health.
I got the idea for the cartoon after reading an article in the New York Times about an MIT grad student who self-diagnosed a brain tumor (which doctors had missed) by studying his medical history and doing his own research (presumably involving Google to some degree). I am also aware of the role the Internet plays in self-diagnosis for the general population, particularly the younger generation. And of course there are all the fitness and health apps. - Kaamran Hafeez
Hafeez credits his own good health, in part, to his preference for web-based searches, saying,
I am in perfect health and rarely see a physician. In fact, I do not have a family doctor. My health choices are based entirely on my own learning and research, which takes place mainly on the Internet, e.g. Google searches, articles in the New York Times, etc.
In fact, a recent study showed one-third of adolescents modify their health habits based on web searches.
The Teens, Health and Technology study, conducted by the Center on Media and Human Development School of Communication at Northwestern University, published the following key findings:
Among all types of media, the Internet is the primary source of health information for teens—outpacing books, TV, radio, newspapers or magazines.
About a quarter of teens have used digital health tools, such as mobile apps, digital games and wearable devices, for finding their health information.
Many teens say they have changed their behavior after consulting online health information or other digital health tools found online.
Teens are most likely to use the Internet for health promotion and preventive health, rather than to diagnose, treat or find information for friends and family members.
Social networking sites are also a source of health information for some teens; however, most teens did say they were cautious about social media and health information.
Fitness and nutrition are the most frequently researched health topics for teens searching online.
There are significant digital and health divides among youth.
Teens depend greatly on search engines when they are looking for health information, especially on the first site that pops up in their searches.
The majority of teens are at least "somewhat” satisfied with the health-related information they find online, but fewer than one in four said they were “very” satisfied.
At the same time, many teens find negative or concerning health information online, such as how to play drinking games (27 percent), how to find tobacco or other nicotine products (25 percent), how to be anorexic or bulimic (17 percent) and how to get or make illicit drugs (14 percent).
It would be interesting to see how adults would fare if a similar study were conducted for our age groups.
Hafeez's cartoon, and the Northwestern study, definitely point to a paradigm shift in the way consumers search for information where their health is concerned. Yet as the study also found, teens also combine their online searches with good old fashioned fireside chats with their parents.
Thank goodness for that.
Still, for all of my rumination about digital health technology, behavior change and health literacy via the web, sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon.
What I hoped readers would take away from the cartoon is a laugh, or a smile of appreciation, nothing more.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.